Tweet Manookatoo Adventures: Calm waters on the Curtis Coast

Monday, 14 August 2017

Calm waters on the Curtis Coast

Calm conditions
The First Mate is a "fair weather sailor", preferring light winds and no swell to adventure on the high seas. The Captain does his best to accommodate this, and regular checking of the BOM page "Met Eye" keeps us both well informed and able to make reasonably good cruising decisions. Of course, as any sailor knows, wind gusts and wave heights can be much greater than forecast, but we take that chance. We have been cruising in mostly favourable weather conditions ever since we left the Clarence River, but have enjoyed a particularly good patch in the last week.

Another beautiful sunset
Leaving Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Straits early on Wednesday morning, there was a slight swell, which made eating breakfast a little bit of a challenge, but soon after that the sea flattened out and we cruised along the coast, admiring the view from the Flybridge - wearing our ePirbs "just in case", but feeling safe and enjoying the beautiful sunny day. We saw no whales as we crossed Hervey Bay, and wondered where the many boatloads of Whale-Watch tourists went each day! Soon after midday we cruised into the Burnett River, the channel markers well out to sea to guide the sugar ships upstream making it easy to see where to go. The small boat harbour just inside looked silted up and shallow, so we dropped anchor in the large basin just before the Marina and lazed the afternoon away. Intending to travel on the next morning,  we didn't make the two hour cruise up to Bundaberg, but will plan to do this on our way south later next year. Late in the afternoon, a couple of fishing trawlers began prawning in the channel, then, just before bedtime a large sugar ship cruised by, accompanied by a couple of tugs, but apart from that it was very peaceful.

Crowded anchorage - Pancake Creek
Pancake Creek sunset
Early on Thursday morning the Captain lifted the anchor, leaving the First Mate in bed with a large cup of coffee and the morning newspaper on the iPad. The conditions were so calm there was no need for her to rise early! As we continued northwards, flat, glistening seas surrounded us with a few yachts unfurling sails in the distance trying to catch the slightest breeze. We approached Round Head just on 1:00, planning to enter through the bar to anchor for a night at the town of 1770 but the VMR were not sure that the depth over the bar was sufficient at that time for what we draw, so, as the tide was falling, we decided against it and continued through Bustard Bay. We passed a couple of whales heading south as we rounded Clews Point, then we cruised into Pancake Creek, dropping anchor just past the last channel markers. There were quite a few boats in the secluded anchorage already, enjoying the calm conditions. We dropped the dinghy on the water and cruised ashore - the tide was out so the walk from the sandbanks to the shore was quite a long one! Back aboard we enjoyed a stunning sunset before dinner, a movie (no TV reception here) and bed.

Bustard Head lighthouse
After a peaceful night on anchor we were keen to explore, so we went ashore early Friday morning - on a rising tide it was easy to get in close this time. We walked across the Chinaman's Creek mudflats, then up the hill to the Bustard Head Lighthouse, stopping for a chat with the acting lighthouse caretaker. Bustard Head was the first lighthouse built in Queensland in 1868 and was automated in 1986, falling prey to vandalism soon after and almost demolished before a dedicated group restored it in 2002. With a group arriving by LARC from 1770 due soon, we decided against the tour and continued onto the Jenny Lind Creek lookout, gazing across Bustard Bay and seeing our anchorage from the other direction. We returned to the track via the well restored cemetery and made the walk down to Aeroplane Beach before returning to Pancake Anchorage, where high tide ensured we didn't need to lug the dinghy across the sands. Later that afternoon we joined many members of the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, including the Clipper crews we had met at Kingfisher Cove, for sundowners on the beach - they are cruising in a group, on their way to the "Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club" for a charity rendezvous party. We will certainly aim to be there for next year's festivities - it sounds like great fun!

Low tide at Pancake Creek
As we are loving Pancake Creek, we are not moving, so Saturday was another lazy morning - although we did start the day with our exercise routine! Later we cruised out in the dinghy, enjoying the flat conditions, around Clews Point and across towards Aeroplane Beach. The water is so clear and aqua blue, we could see manta rays and even a turtle swimming beneath us. We returned to Manookatoo for lunch and a lazy afternoon, waiting for the tide to fall before enjoying a walk on the sandbar that appeared in the middle of the creek. Another beautiful sunset deepened into a starry night while we ate our three-course "Saturday special" and watched an episode of "Coast" set on the Great Barrier Reef - inspiration for future travel.

On Sunday morning the Captain raised the anchor again and we left Pancake Creek on a rising tide, heading north. The sea was glassy again and we saw a few whales frolicking in Rodds Bay as we passed, counting many coal loading ships waiting off shore for their turn at the busy coal loading facilities. Entering the shipping channel, the Captain radioed Harbour control, who
Gladstone by night
had already picked us up on AIS, to let them know we were entering and to find out the latest ship movements. We had intended anchoring in Tannum Sands but thought the entrance a little shallow, so we explored briefly in the dinghy before continuing north, passing two large ships in the channel, then heading across towards She Oak Island, dropping anchor in the bay. A lazy afternoon followed, while the captain watched his footy team win and the first mate read and did some knitting, before another glorious sunset capped off the day.

Gladstone Marina
On Monday morning it was time for an early exercise session before the sun was too high, followed by breakfast, and then the captain lifted the anchor and we made our way back across the shipping channel and into Auckland Creek, tying up at Gladstone Marina. This is a very industrial city, with coal, aluminum, gas and power plants all prominent on the waterfront, but despite this there are many lovely places and the marina itself is excellent, with great facilities. We caught the courtesy bus to the local shopping centre for supplies, stocking up the larder and the bar, before catching a taxi back to Manookatoo. After packing the supplies away we walked along the waterfront and over the bridge into the city centre, enjoying a drink at the Reef Hotel before lunch overlooking Auckland Creek at the Gladstone Yacht Club. Later that afternoon we explored the port precinct, which caters for a range of industries including pilots, barges, ferries and associated marine businesses. We bought a new book, "Curtis Coast", written by local sailing identity, Noel Patrick, planning to follow some of his advice regarding places to see in the local environment in the coming weeks.  In the evening we enjoyed sundowners on the Flybridge before dinner.

The busy port of Gladstone from Auckland Point Hill
On Tuesday we were up early for a walk along the foreshore and over the bridge, climbing up to Auckland Hill to see the busy port in action, then descending the 110 steps to walk around Auckland Point. Despite the busyness of the port and the noisiness of the local coal loading terminal, we are really enjoying Gladstone - and the weather, a beautiful 28 degrees with clear, sunny skies, is adding to our enjoyment! Today was the day for refueling the boat and dinghy and filling the water tanks. We are leaving Manookatoo in the morning to fly down for a family wedding in NSW followed by surgery to remove the "Suzuki frame" on the first mate's finger at Southport. When we return in 10 days time we intend cruising off again at the first opportunity, bound for the reef!!

The Captain's Log:
Hervey Bay to Gladstone
Distance travelled 143.3 Nautical Miles
Fuel consumption 171.4 litres (1.19 litres per NM)
Queensland Cruising so far:
Gold Coast to Gladstone
Distance travelled 402.5 Nautical Miles
Fuel consumption 426.8 litres (1.06 litres per NM)

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