Ed an ex sailing instructor, turns up bright and early to give us a very thorough boat briefing on its systems. We also go through and check that everything is working and also make a note of any pre-existing damage, which was only a few scrapes down the port hull. This was supposed to take around two hours or so, but a faulty BBQ kept us in the marina for an extra hour and a half whilst it was fixed. Eventually we make it out to sea for a bit of hands on training with Ed towing a tender behind, so he can nip off when all done.
Seafox is sporting twin Yanmar 29HP engines, autopilot, Garmin GPS and wind instruments (apparent only) all at a raised starboard helm position with all sheets running back through jammers to two self-tailing winches, with a further two winches on the mast for halyards and reefing lines on a slab system. She has a fully battened mainsail and a furling Genoa, with the furling line jammer next to the helm. The raised helm has great all round visibility, but for me it removed the connection to the ocean. This was not helped by the hydraulic steering which had the feel of steering a truck more than piloting an ocean going vessel, although it was still fun to sail, especially when the breeze kicked up a bit.
After going through the lines and reefing system, picking up a mooring and a quick hands on tutorial on anchoring for my novice crew, Ed is off and we are free to start our adventure. I had originally planned to spend the first night at an easy anchorage at Nara inlet on Hook Island which was around a 10nm sail, but Ed had convinced me to head out to some moorings at Stonehaven bay, again on Hook Island and a similar distance.
My first taste of sailing the Whitsundays was through the Whitsunday Passage in a brisk twelve to fifteen knot breeze slightly forward of the beam and a small well-spaced swell, close to perfect sailing conditions. It was a straight run out to Stonehaven without even the need to tack and the boat handled well, running at around half wind speed, although I’m sure a more experienced sail trimmer could have coaxed out a bit more grunt from the well-proportioned sail plan.
As we approached Stonehaven, we easily furled the Genoa and dropped the main straight into the sail bag with the aid of the lazy jacks. A previous rekkie with the binoculars, my own, as the boat ones were worse than useless, had revealed both bays looking very busy and I had a niggling concern that all the moorings were going to be taken, which was confirmed as we closed in on the southernmost bay first. The public moorings in the Whitsundays have a 2 hour courtesy limit between 8am and 4pm, so if you pick up one after 2pm, you are able to stay until the next day. We did notice however on more than one occasion some boats were hanging on the packed moorings all day. Due to our delay with the BBQ we were arrived close to the 4pm sailing deadline set by the charter company who requires you to be either safely anchored or moored up by that time. This added pressure I could have done without on my first attempt at finding a mooring or anchoring spot.
A quick prayer to Neptune and out came the binoculars again to check the Northerly bay for any free moorings. The thing is, it’s pretty hard to distinguish between the anchor exclusion buoys and the mooring buoys at a distance, especially later in the day when the light is dropping off, so we were unsure if there were any free in the next bay or not. With fingers crossed we set off to check it out and predictably they were all taken. A few choice expletives crossed my mind with regards to Ed convincing me to come here instead of Nara Inlet, but it was now 4pm, so we had no choice but to find a spot to anchor for the night.
Having only ever previously anchored a few times for lunch, to say that anchoring is not my forte is a gross understatement and a few proverbial bricks were being laid. Stonehaven is not a particularly shallow Bay outside of the anchor exclusion zone and this was exasperated by a spring tide of four and a half meters and several boats already anchored ahead of us. Add to this that we had only sixty meters of chain and the charter company had requested a minimum of five to one scope and our anchoring dilemma was looking pretty hairy.
We had about a metre of tide left to rise and trawling up and down checking out the depth was not giving us anything under fourteen metres, so we decided to head in towards the exclusion zone and in amongst the moorings Now as I was to quickly learn, judging distance from where you drop the anchor to where you end up after letting out the required scope is an art form, one which I was severely lacking in! We found a couple of holes at around twelve meters depth, which looked good, but once we had let out the full scope we were uncomfortably close to the boats on moorings so up with the anchor it was, to try for another attempt.
During this period we had the charter company on the radio asking us to check in, which only added to the stress, as well of the fact that I was fully aware that we were the evening’s entertainment for all the other boats currently relaxing with sundowners and enjoying the spectacle. So third time lucky I nailed it, I took a couple of visual transits and banged on Anchor Alert, an Android anchor drag alarm and I was pretty happy we were not dragging when I was gently backing down under power.
The nearest boat was at least fifty meters directly behind me when I was backing down, so I was feeling pretty good about things, until my nearest neighbour pitched up in his tender, making noises about me being too close and if I were to drag, it was a major safety concern for him. I tried to tell him that the anchor set well and that I had set up an anchor alarm and was totally on the ball in regards to dragging.
Unfortunately he was not as convinced with the setting of my pick as I was and suggested that I move over to the moorings at Langford reef. Although a lot more exposed for an overnighter, it was probably not a bad call for the conditions if it had been earlier in the day, but it was now after 4.30PM the light was deteriorating and a quick glance at the boats copy of 100 Magic Miles settled it – the charter company had lots of big red X’s over the channel in between Black Island and Langford making the trip considerably longer in fading light around notorious shallow fringing reefs, thanks, but no thanks. After a little more polite haranguing I reluctantly agreed to try and find another spot and our neighbour headed back to his boat. So up with the anchor once again and off in search of that elusive shallow hole, at which point, he hailed me to let me know he was dropping off the mooring, presumably running the gauntlet of the Black Island Langford channel, but I graciously took the mooring with an audible sigh of relief and a big thumbs up to our departing friend.
Stonehaven has a fantastic amount of reef running just off the beach at high tide and fully exposed at low tide, with some great snorkelling to be had in easy shallow waters. The beach is mainly sand, although quite coarse and for the athletic types, you can traipse up to the top of Mt Sydney around 390m above sea level, something I decided against due to improper footwear aka thongs and the apoplectic look of a couple just coming back from the climb.
To Be Continued………