I was sitting on the lounge out the back of our neighbours house looking at the latest Australasian Multihull World, Ronnie giving me the latest run down on the Fountain Pajot Lavessi 40 up in Singapore that he had his eye on. This was to be a defining moment for what was to play out in both Jens and my futures, who would have known? We decided to join Ronnie on a trip to the Gold Coast for the Sanctuary Cove boat show, this led to a 10 day bareback charter in the Whitsundays.
We loved it and this is our story.
2330: Depart Perth Airport headed for Airlie Beach on the other side of Australia.
1230: Arrive at Cumberland Yacht Charters, Abel Point Marina feeling pretty rooted and a bit pongy but we were here. I announced our arrival to the CYC office staff and was informed that Carpe Diem was ready and our briefer, Rick, is waiting for us. Pack suitcases and esky onto a trolley and head for our home for the next 11 nights.
Carpe Diem is a brand new Fountaine Pajot Lavezzi 40 and is the newest vessel in the CYC fleet. Once on board Mollie’s first comment, “this isn’t bad hey dad” was like we were thinking the same thing and high fives followed. This voyage was just one obstacle to my dream of buying a cat of this type and it couldn’t have started out better.
We have been planning this trip for the last 4 months, organising airfares, charter costs, purchasing the bible, One Hundred Magic Miles, and reading it from cover to cover. Deciding the route we shall take, the places we shall stay, even a galley duty roster although that was easy as Jen was in charge of all galley duties. The guys at CYC are very organised and have a great website so by the time we arrived I felt pretty confident that all bases were covered and pretty much all that needed to be done would be the provisioning.
We met Rick on the jetty and took a shine to him straight away, after showing us around he sat us down in the saloon and proceeded with the briefing. The main message that was passed onto us was that of having the right Attitude. “If it is too hard then don’t do it.” This message is repeated throughout the briefing and Mollie, 16 year old daughter and and designated first mate, reminded me of it a couple of times during our time aboard. The other message that Rick passed on was that the skipper was always right and that all crew members should do as he says. This law of the sea was certainly not adhered to. So that was the briefing over with and we were free to go whenever we were ready.
We loaded up our complimentary dive gear, discounted drinks and ice from the marina bottleshop and then the taxi to the supermarket in town to start our provisioning. All the good stuff. The next morning we could get all the stuff we forgot which ended up being a worthy decision as the second days shop was much bigger than the initial one, we still forgot the sugar. As we had arrived in the afternoon we were unable to to head out to the islands that day so we moored up just outside of the marina and settled back to our first sunset with nice cold beers, olives and a most excellent feeling of expectation for what was to come.
Amazingly after a shower at the marina, we all headed for bed and woke the next morning at 0900hrs and completed shopping, bought heaps more Corona, Vodka, Bourbon, coolies, 2 mud crab pots, another lure and bait.
1200hrs we dropped off the mooring and headed for Hook Island, through the channel between Pioneer Rocks, as instructed by Rick, to give you a perspective on actual distance compared to that drawn on the chart. A very good tip. The chart plotter was a beauty. It made life easy and soon we were passing North Molle Island doing 8 knots motoring with the jib. We headed for Nara Inlet which was the first destination we had chosen in our planning stage but as we neared it the place was filled with smoke from spot fires so we radioed Cumberland and told them that we were now heading for Tongue Bay. The people at Cumberland probably got a good laugh out of my first attempt to speak on the scary radio thing. After I finally spat, or perhaps stuttered, it out I just thought thank god that is over for today dreading 0830 tomorrow..
We motored through Hook Passage, like a millpond but with a good current to push us along and then down to Tongue Bay. It was this part of the first days travel that gave you a real understanding of the size of the Whitsunday Group. They aren’t as spread out as I thought they would be and to travel around from island to island was both easy and quite speedy.
We anchored up in Tongue Bay at 1600 and sat back to beers, snacks and the serenity of it all, sort of anyway. There were four other boats in the bay one of which looked like it had fifty people on it. I polished off the days beer ration early and decided at this early point of the voyage that rationing was not going to work and that when all the beer or alcohol in general was gone I would just go and find some more. Hamilton Island is over the other side of Whitsunday Island just a short sail away. We all settled back and watched a movie, then called it a day. We all had a cabin to ourselves, I snore a bit, and all three cabins were really comfortable with heaps of room and great beds.
0600 Woke up, launched the tender and set off to do some hunting and gathering, set our 2 crab pots and then went back for the 0830 sched which I completely stuffed up. The crew were still silent in bed at 0900hrs and I am itching to go, so heavy footsteps a bit of clanging and banging, radio up loud and they got up. Shortly after everyone is up it is found that the toilets aren’t working properly, both tanks are full, so now I get my wish, up anchor and motor out of Tongue Bay. We then go to raise the main for the first time. This is my first close shave with ATTITUDE but finally with some good help from the crew we got it up, unfurled the jib and we are off reaching at 7 to 8 knots. The actual raising of the main was quite a bit scarier than I had expected. You could really feel the power in the sail while it was being raised especially when we strayed from pointing directly into the breeze. It felt excellent once we got going though and we exited the green zone in no time and could dump the tanks. Mollie learnt fast not to look out of the window when dumping as it just isn’t a pleasant thing to see. We did have a bit of a laugh about it up on deck as we looked aft but were very happy to get a good distance between us and it.
The yacht handled superbly and once we got away from the islands we hit 9.6 knots with 22 knots of wind. We sailed out to the charter limit as per our charts, jibed and sailed back to Border Island approaching Cataran Bay from the SE. All the moorings were taken here so we dropped anchor and set about making some lunch. We ate and relaxed, I even had a siesta and by the time I awoke we needed to get going to be at our evening destination, Tongue Bay, by 1600. Once again the close proximity and calm waters inside of the islands allowed us to move about quickly and with no fuss.
We used the tender to go ashore at Tongue Point but were confronted with danger tape and flagging across the track up to the lookout. A ranger appeared out of nowhere and that was that, there would be no lookout trip for us.
Mollie and I shot around and pulled the pots. We came back grinning like dead foxes. 4 thumping crabs. We didn’t have a pot big enough for even the smallest one but I found a large fry pan and lid, chilled the crabs to sleep and then wrapped them up in a T-towel and steamed them one at a time for 10 minutes. Jen and I enjoyed them for the next three days.
Beautiful sunset, beers, crab claws, a relaxed crew was how that day ended and the sleep that followed was awesome.
Woke up to only just be on time for 0830hrs sched and nailed it. The radio woke everyone and breakfast was scoffed and we upped anchor. I was showing Moe how to retrieve the anchor and Jen was assigned skipper. This bought on another close call with ATTITUDE as she sort of steered straight for a Bavaria 38, the guy on its foredeck looked a bit worried as I grabbed the wheel from her to safely miss him. Jen reckoned, “This boat has a mind of its own.” All parties involved were happy that she went back to her original position in the crew, which is something that she is much better at.
We motored around Tongue Point and headed south along Whitehaven Beach all the way down the other end. A very nice drive, in that beautiful turquoise water you see on the TV. There were heaps of other boats all along that stretch so we decided to head across the bay to Chalkies. As we approached we consulted the bible, moorings all taken so decided on anchoring 50 odd metres inside the large boat with 50 people on it from a couple of nights ago. There were indeed at least 50 of them. Moe and I took the dinghy in to the beach and went for our first dive. Bloody freezing, but the coral down the eastern end of the beach we pretty nice. At the time I did wish that I had bought my steamer from home as it would have allowed for more exploration. We walked the beach lined with Casuarinas in beautiful sunshine and motored back to Carpe Diem. The breeze was up to 20 knots SE so we decided on raising the sails and sailing back towards Border Island. Then back into Tongue Bay for the usual, beers, cheese and crackers and of course, the serenity. Bed was once again early and very comfortable.
Up early pulled the pots, nothing, so motored back along Whitehaven heading for Hamilton Island for fuel for dinghy, water, ice and beer. The breeze was already in and gusting to 30knots as we cruised down the lee side of Whitsunday Island and entered Solway Passage. We headed towards Pentecost Island which is the only island Captain Cook named in the group, something I read months before, and into our first crappy weather. Almost instantly there was more banging and clanging happening inside and then two not so happy crew members gave it to me. ATTITUDE. I didn’t feel it was that bad so pressed on regardless. Constantly referring to the bible and wondering, where the hell is Hamilton Island, as it wasn’t where I thought it should be. I kept heading for Pentecost and then out of the blue there it was. The resort high rise was to starboard and probably 3 more miles away. With the change of course we unfurled the jib, shut the engines down and sailed all the way through Fitzalen Passage and around the Northern tip of Hamilton. The mornings sail had come with a few unexpected minor tragedies. Mollie was a bit sick, I’d told her to come outside earlier. Rick’s number 2 rule was once again treated with disdain. Moe also found her clothes and stuff wet. Always close both clamps on the deck hatches. A lesson that she wont forget but in the end not probably as bad as having to wash down the side of the boat.
We gained permission to enter the marina and headed in, once again with the bible open to chart C22, and moored at the fuel jetty as gentle as you like. To tell you the truth I was spinning out a bit at the thought of maneuvering in tight spaces. Fuel is expensive but water was free and we soon realised that we had been heavy water users. We paid for an hours parking at the end of E arm jetty and went ashore after another fine piece of parking. I thought Hamilton Island was a bit like Rottnest with a resort and heaps of golf buggies. The pies from the bakery were deluxe and the people in the supermarket and bottle shop friendly as. Our hour was up pretty quick so we headed back to the boat with heaps of stuff. We motored out of the marina and I realized that we had to make a decision as to where to go next. Our carefully planned itinery had been chucked out and there was no way the crew was going to cop anymore rough stuff. So after consulting the bible we headed for Cid Harbour. With close to 20 knots of wind we put the sails up and had a very smooth and relaxing sail all the way into Cid Harbour through Hunt Channel.
We anchored up, no moorings left, and sat back with the crowd to enjoy the rest of the afternoon fishing and exploring. A funny thing happened as it got dark, a Bavaria 38 upped anchor and shifted about 200 metres away. We all cracked up.
We stayed in Cid Harbour for 2 nights and checked out the walk paths, the goanna at Sawmill Beach, and the mangroves up the top of the bay. Even with all the boats it was peaceful and very relaxing.
Next morning I had to lay down the law, we are moving, otherwise the crew may have decided to just stay there. We went for full sails and headed for Hayman Island and Blue Pearl Bay in particular. We sailed there by reaching towards the mainland then jibing back towards Hook Island over and over for nearly 4 hours. We clocked a top speed of 12.9 knots on the log and Moe and I shared the skippering. This is what I was hoping for and both the crew seemed pretty stoked as well. We pulled into Blue Pearl Bay and saw our first chance to get a mooring only to see a dive boat speed out to it from the shore and arrive seconds before us. I think he probably felt bad as he pretended he hadn’t seen us approaching. We anchored up and waited for a mooring to become available, every 2 hours, but the next one was swooped on by Ragamuffin as we were raising our anchor just in the bay. Getting a mooring was a bit like the sea eagle that was swooping the snorklers chasing baits from a dive operator. Line it up and put your blinkers on. In the end we only had a long distance glance at Blue Pearl Bay and got out of there as quickly as possible. Sailing around the top of Hayman Island is quite beautiful with cliffs down to the sea. We sailed for Butterfly Bay and went in to camp up for the afternoon and night but there were no moorings left and no one was going to move that was for sure. Couldn’t blame them really so we headed around to Maureens Cove and anchored for the night, you guessed it no spare moorings. The water was crystal clear and had that oily look. We snorkled along the western end and saw a huge coral trout, a baby crayfish and some really nice coral. We had the best sunset and hammered the remaining supplies of alcohol. Arced up the BBQ for the second time, devoured the fillet steaks and went to bed all happy campers after what had been a very enjoyable day. The next day was possibly going to be the biggest mission so far.
Woke at 0700 and upped anchor, the crew complaining about the lack of sleep due to the continuous rocking, buggered if I could remember any. We motored through the passage between Hook and Hayman Island’s, easy as you like using the chartplotter as they have given you lines to follow all the way through. We continued up to near Nara Inlet and waited for the 0830 sched and let Cumberland know we were returning to Airely Beach to dump some rubbish and get some more supplies. I explained we would be sailing and was informed that it would take anywhere between 2 to 3 hours. I hadn’t planned on it taking that long but if worse come to worse we could sail and drive. It was blowing at around 20 knots as we pulled up the sails, a much easier task these days with not a inkling of ATTITUDE coming into it. We headed for the tip of North Molle Island and then onto Pioneer Point at speeds of 9 knots plus, top speed 10.9knots, and come into Airley Beach 50 minutes later. The surprise in the Cumberland radio operator’s voice was evident and she quizzed us as to where we had actually left from. It was an unreal sail, the boat handled superbly and my only problem was that Moe had taken a liking to driving it. We anchored up off of Airley Beach, the girls did the shopping and I did the rubbish and alcohol. This was going to be the last supply stop and we had four days left so it was a beaut. We loaded up after looking around town for a bit, seems like a very relaxing place with nice friendly people everywhere we went. We then set sail back to the islands. Once again we covered the distance in quick fashion and found ourselves in Stonehaven in the early afternoon. I couldn’t believe it, there was a mooring with no one on it so we powered our way for it only to get pipped at the post by another cat. Moe had got us so close but failed, Jen and I both thought ramming a possibility. A different type of ATTITUDE was called for so I bit my tongue and anchored up. We sat out of the wind reading for the duration of the afternoon before another BBQ, more refreshing ales, a movie and bed.
Next morning up nice and early and on a mission to get our first mooring so we headed around to Manta Ray Bay and there it was.
Mooring was a skill that we had had no practice at but we got there in the end and all the crew went back to bed. Up again for the morning sched and then prepared for snorkeling in a beautiful location. The tide picked up around 1000hrs and the surge out of the bay was quite spectacular. We had the dinghy two up and flat out to be just making way against it. The sun finally came out and the water was glassy with no wind at all. Moe and I got suited up, I had my springsuit on with the hired wetsuit over the top and was just about not cold but the scenery below the surface was amazing. The coral was beautiful and the wildlife made you feel a bit claustrophobic with little fish surrounding you. I even caught a fish in my hand. Then the highlight swam in, George, The Maori Rasse. He just comes up to you from the depths angles himself so a rub down his side is possible then turns and comes back for more. Silky smooth. The cold even disappeared but that was possibly due to Moe climbing all over my back close to packing her dacks, sorry, wetsuit.
We lounged around into the afternoon and departed to the next bay when a yacht cruised in and needed a mooring. The rocks on the point are shaped like logs stacked up in a pile hence the name Woodpiles. Pinnacle Bay is another beautiful place and is at the top of Hook Island. We explored the bay, butterflies everywhere and pummous rock everywhere. We had decided to stay on the mooring for the night but were cautioned that the weather was to change during the night by Cumberland. The sea was flat and glassy and we had a choice of hanging up the top end with the chance of a mooring pretty slim or heading South again. After consulting the bible we headed around the corner into Mackeral Bay where the fishing was said to be very good. We anchored up the northern end and dropped the hand lines. At first not a bite, then a few of the baits were taken and then the bite from hell. It took off and you could feel it go tight. We tried to drag it back and even drove the cat back but it wasn’t budging. As it was getting on we went to raise the anchor and see if we could skull drag whatever it was out. While I was on the buttons some of my line came up on the chain. I looked at the anchor guide and here is a six foot Cobia with its nose squeezing through and its eyes glaring at me on the outside of the guide. I absolutely shat myself and instead of lowering it down I dragged it further in and it straightened the hook and fell back in. No one else saw it but they heard the splash. The one that got away. It would have been our first fish for the trip.
We let Cumberland know that we were heading back to Tongue Bay for the evening so as to complete the lap of Hook Island. The weather could only be described as balmy as we motored at 8 knots south. Then for the second time on the trip I got completely lost. This time due to the fact that there appeared to be islands where there weren’t meant to be any.
I finally recognized Border Island in the distance and it fell into place. We trailed a lure all the way but for no joy and eventually gave up. We pulled into Tongue Bay to find we were the only people there and all three moorings were free. We moored up and set about getting the crab pots ready and shot around the corner to set them once more. The bait situation was low so both pots got two lamb chops. We went to check out the lookout but were once again sent packing by the ranger.
That night the wind came up and was blowing 30 plus knots from midnight to dawn. There were two noises that night which drove me nuts. I found and remedied the first, main halyard flapping violently. It took four goes to fix it and in the end I had to take a mental note of which ropes were tied where so I could undo it all in the morning. The next noise was harder to find as it only happened when the boat was slewing to port and you could only hear it in my cabin. After a couple of hours and half a dozen beers I worked it out, It was the screecher halyard that we had pulled taut when back at the marina on our first day. The wind was so strong that it was making the rope humm and the point where it attached to the boat was between both Port cabins. Let it off a bit and time for bed. It had killed my sleep, and Jens with me thumping around on deck, that night and it was 0400 by the time I crashed.
Woke about 1000 and pulled the pots and got a couple of beauties and a womany which we chucked back. We motored down to the bottom of Whitehaven and looked around and had a very nice casual sail back to Tongue Bay to drink beers and relax reading on deck. BBQ and that was that for another day. It was certainly getting easier to do very little but cruise around, which is not one of my traits, but something that all of us had taken too.
The next morning was sunny with SE winds to 20 knots, pulled the pots for the last time and packed them up. We took some lemon ashore and had a nice feast of fresh oysters for lunch and washed them down with a few beers.
We set off from Tongue Bay and headed to Nara Inlet for the last night of the voyage. We had a great sail with some good swells rolling through giving you that extra acceleration as you picked them up. Going from 7 knots to up to 9.5 knots with the boat humming along was pretty special and I was spewing a bit that the trip was coming to an end. It hadn’t really dawned on me until that sail that our time was almost done. Should have gone for longer. The Cumberland website mentioned that after seven days you wish you had eleven, well fifteen would have done us. We motored into Nara Inlet and were confronted by what looked like a scene from out the front of Airley Beach, boats everywhere. We cruised up the inlet and checked it all out and then noticed all the names of the yachts that we had heard calling in on the sched’s, were all there. We could never hear what they said to Cumberland on Channel 86 and I really hoped none of them could hear what we were spitting out, as it was not a task that any of the crew really got off on.
I dropped the girls ashore and they did the walk to the aboriginal paintings and lookout while I cooked the crabs for tea. The alcohol supply was 6 beers and about an inch of vodka. By morning it was one lonesome but very cold Corona. Nara Inlet is remarkably calm considering the bullets that come through there and I found myself up a few times during the night checking the anchor, all the cushions, towels and clothes.
Morning came and we were up with ham and eggs, no where near as good as bacon, if Moe is to be trusted, but there wasn’t any left. We motored up to the mouth of Nara Inlet, set the sails and headed once again for the tip of North Molle island in about 18 to 22 knots. We sat on 7 to 8 knots all the way back. Another nice sail, Moe skippered, I had my last play with the sails and then we were back at Abel Point marina going threw the refueling, debriefing and packing up. We escaped with minimal damage to the boat, a zip, latch and a couple of screws holding down the saloon covers had pulled out. We had spent close to $400.00 on fuel for the yacht and dinghy, same with food and a bit less on drinks.
We traveled 170.4 nautical miles and my rationing meant I had one beer left when we arrived back at Abel Point. It didn’t hit the sides as I sat in the skippers chair for the last time. We were back in Perth at 2300 that night.
Reflecting on all the things we had done on the trip just makes me want some more and I noticed the other day Carpe Diem has another two week block available this year, how good would that be? I hope you enjoyed our story and I would recommend this type of holiday to anybody. Cheers to Cumberland Yacht Charters for a holiday full of ATTITUDE.