Tweet Manookatoo Adventures: Island hopping #1 - from the Keppels to the Percys

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Island hopping #1 - from the Keppels to the Percys

Leeke's Creek
The lure of Great Keppel Island warranted a return visit, so on Friday  morning, after breakfast, we cast off from Rosslyn Bay Marina and returned to Svensden's Beach, where many of the same boats from our previous visit were still anchored. It was still as beautiful and we enjoyed a walk along the shore and across to Sven's beach before lunch. As the tide went down, we took the dinghy around into Leeke's Creek, a tidal estuary that winds its way through the mangroves to a landing near the old homestead we had previously visited. We saw huge manta rays skimming through the water beneath us as we cruised through the maze of trees, with dead end channels and a fast flowing tide keeping our attention focused, but we couldn't find the channel to the homestead so we cruised back down the creek and over to Manookatoo. Later that afternoon, a flotilla of dinghies landed near the boat camp on Svensden's beach, so we made our way ashore for sundowners and new acquaintances. It is always great to hear about new places to visit, and we took away many great ideas for northern anchorages.
Plenty of fish in the sea!
Saturday dawned bright and sunny, so we attempted to do our exercises on a challenging swell, before breakfast and a walk along the beach from Leeke's Creek to the rocks at the other end. Two boats were ashore in the creek, a favourite for "careening" to carry out repairs below the waterline at low tide. Returning to the dinghy, the First Mate enjoyed her first swim now that all dressings were removed from her finger and it was allowed to get wet! As the day progressed, the number of boats in the bay diminished, until by 4:00 there was only us and a houseboat left! Checking the BOM website, we discovered the wind was shifting to the north as the day and night progressed, so we decided to follow everyone else's lead and do the "Keppel shuffle" to another side of the island, dropping anchor just near the reef at Monkey Beach. We took the dinghy ashore for a walk along the beach and over to Long Beach, where many of the other boats we knew were anchored. Returning to the dinghy, we noticed Kool Sid, previously owned by Robyn and Dick (now on Kool Sid II) was nearby, so we ventured over to make acquaintance with their owners, Tremain and Sue. We didn't linger long, as we had a three course "Saturday night special" dinner to prepare, with champagne on the Flybridge for sundowners! After our delicious dinner we took our red wine back up to the Flybridge to enjoy the balmy evening and moonlit night.
New friends - from Kool Sid 1
Sunset, Monkey beach
On Sunday morning we went for a long walk along Long Beach, before returning to Manookatoo,  grabbing the snorkel and swimming over to the reef. The colours of the coral were muted but the fish were plentiful and beautiful, of all shapes and sizes. Later we took a cruise around to Fishermans beach, where all the facilities are, but there were so many boats and tourists around that we soon returned to our own quiet bay. After lunch we enjoyed another snorkel before meeting Tremain and Sue ashore for sundowners and a proper acquaintance. They have cruised for years along the east coast so had many suggestions of places to visit and anchor. All suggestions duly noted! Returning to Manookatoo we made pizzas and enjoyed a quiet night.
Follow the deep water in!
Suset, Corio Bay
The alarm rang at 6am on Monday morning - time to leave the beautiful Keppel islands and continue our travels north. We cruised across to Rosslyn Bay to fill the water tanks, get fuel for the dinghy and buy some seafood from the co-op. By 8am we were back in the Coral Sea, cruising north past Yeppoon, seeing many whales frolicking in the water before turning towards Corio Bay. There are no markers to show the channel through the sandbanks, but some sage advice given by an experienced local was to use Google Maps, and the blue dot showing our boat, to follow the deep water in. It worked a treat, and just before 11am we were anchored in a deep lagoon. As the tide dropped we could see the sandbanks appear around us so we took the dinghy ashore for a walk along the edge towards the sea. The outward current rips through the channel and the Captain braved a short swim close to shore but the First Mate was mindful of the fast flowing water and the outside chance of a crocodile and could not be tempted in. A delicious lunch of Tiger prawns and a lazy afternoon followed; with just two other boats anchored nearby it will be a quiet night tonight.
Green sandbanks at Port Clinton
Another 6am start on Tuesday morning, the captain following the route he had plotted out of Corio Bay and back into the Coral Sea. Conditions were glassy as we cruised along, passing a small settlement surrounded by national park at Stockyard Point, seeing mother and baby whales frolicking between us and the coast at Five Rocks, passing yachts sailing south at Cape Manifold and entering the "military zone" where passage or anchoring is banned when exercises, including live firing, are underway. Luckily it's all quiet at the moment! We cruised into Port Clinton just before noon, dropping anchor near mud banks which appeared as the tide fell. Many turtles cruised by, raising their heads for a closer look at us! We went ashore and walked along the beach - as we are in the military zone you are not allowed further than the high water mark. As the tide receded, grassy sandbanks were revealed - no wonder there were so many turtles near us! The water was murkier than at Corio Bay, so neither of us was tempted to swim, rather, with a freshening wind outside we lazed the afternoon away reading and relaxing on Manookatoo before a delicious dinner of pan-fried Coral trout - something we intend having more of as we continue in the Coral Sea! After dinner, with no TV reception, we ventured outside but were beaten back inside by hordes of tiny insects, so we played a game of "Battleships" and retired to bed with our books.
Coral trout

Keeping the midgies at bay
When the captain got up on Wednesday morning, every surface was covered in tiny insects, so he immediately shut the cabin door and fumigated both inside and out and covered himself in repellant. So far, we haven't noticed any bites, but he wasn't taking any chances! The wind had dropped overnight so the insects had invaded. Soon after, he raised the anchor and we were heading north again, out of Port Clinton, past the rugged rocky coastline and around into Pearl Bay, where we stopped to enjoy breakfast. It's a beautiful spot, and one we have earmarked for an overnight stop on our return, provided the winds are in our favour! Conditions were perfect on the sea, with no swell, so we continued north, around Island Head and into the bay, passing several catamarans and cruisers, including the 102ft "Lady Audrey", before dropping anchor in a small inlet favored by both Noel Patrick (Curtis Coast) and Alan Lucas (Cruising the Coral Coast) just in time for a mid-morning cuppa. The landscape here is very rugged; no wonder it is a military zone - so there was no incentive to go ashore. Our neighbours cruised by in their tinny in the afternoon, keen to show us their freshly caught, huge Spanish Mackeral - we're still just thinking about fishing, while they will have many meals from that fish! As evening approached, the big yellow full moon appeared over the ridge top and we sat back enjoying the serenity - no reception again, but we don't think we're missing much!
Island Head
Thursday was another early start, with the captain starting the engine just before 6am, and we cruised out of Island Head and followed the shoreline until we reached Cape Townshend, where the mainland turns north-west and we continued north. We left the military zone soon after, seeing a couple of boats way off in the distance but not much else. Coast Guard Thirsty Sound gave us the latest weather - with no reception apart from VHF we have to rely on this for making good decisions about cruising and anchoring - so we continued heading NNE, arriving on the the northern side of Hexham Island just after 10am. After dropping anchor and having a cuppa, we discussed options for the day and decided that, with the calm conditions, we would continue cruising and head for the Percy group of islands. The whale migration continues south and we saw many pods or family groups, some were quite close but it was those further away who tended to be most active, breaching and tail slapping. We enjoyed fish cakes for lunch on our cruise north, passing South Percy Island soon after and cruising on to Middle Percy, dropping anchor at West Beach just after 2pm. We jumped in the dinghy and headed ashore to explore. The tide was going out so the captain was not keen to go far and have the dinghy stuck on the sand, so we explored the A-frame hut filled with memorabilia from other passing boats and met some fellow travellers - including two crews from Clippers we had seen in Pearl Bay, who were all from Port Stephens, so many stories of lovely cruising times were exchanged! Later we enjoyed sundowners on the beach and we were invited to join some others at the A-frame for Kangaroo Stew but declined and returned to Manookatoo for Roast Beef. Another full moon rose over the island as we enjoyed our meal, with a lovely Shiraz, in beautiful surrounds.
The A-frame hut
No cruising today, so it was a morning for exercises on the Flybridge! A whale family was also exercising nearby, with the little one breaching while mum and dad (possibly more!) showed their appreciation with tail and fin slaps, loud enough to hear from our vantage point. An amazing show! After breakfast we cruised ashore and walked up the track, past the "treehouse" and Andy's Lookout, to the old homestead, now occupied by Andy's niece, Kate and husband John. Kate very hospitably showed us around their lovely old home, then served us a lime and honey soda on the verandah. Living on the island full time has its challenges, with the house to renovate, garden to tend, animals to care for, etc - not for the faint hearted! They do have internet coverage, though, so we took advantage to check the weather for the next few days and ensure we were safe to stay here. Farewelling Kate, we took the "goat track" back to the beach, via a tidal lagoon where two large boats are moored, returning to Manookatoo for a well earned rest. That afternoon, Rod and Gaye from "Double Diamond" invited us aboard their beautiful catamaran for sundowners - their boat is so luxurious it would almost tempt the first mate into sailing. We returned to Manookatoo in the dark, before the moon rose, for our favourite salmon dinner and a lazy night watching pre-recorded TV shows.
Another lovely evening at the Percy islands
On Saturday morning, Double Diamond left early heading south and a few other boats followed soon after. Meanwhile we went ashore and enjoyed a walk up around to the lagoon and retraced our steps across the mangrove flats, then back past an original homestead site, before returning to take the dinghy up into the lagoon while the tide was high. Matthew Flinders described the entrance width as "no more than can fit the oars", and I'd have to agree with him! It is amazing how tidal this lagoon is - the two boats moored here are completely dry at low tide, but we were able to follow a couple of mangrove-lined channels for quite a way on the high tide. We cruised back to the beach, where the captain de-husked a coconut we had found nearby, and we bought some produce available in the A-frame: locally grown sweet potatoes, honey and mango chutney. We'll enjoy those in the coming days and think of Percy Island. Returning to Manookatoo the Captain made his delicious focaccia for lunch and we enjoyed a lazy afternoon before heading to the beach to attach our own memento, with the thousands of others who have come before us, in the A-frame, then joining some other boaties for sundowners on the shore, returning to Manookatoo for our "traditional" three course Saturday night dinner.
Our piece of memorabilia
Another exercise routine was the order of the day on Sunday morning, before breakfast then heading ashore in the dinghy. With no VHF coverage again, the captain was keen to know the weather outlook. "Young Kate", from the treehouse, suggested we climb the hill to find their aerial, with a plug attached that just happened to fit our dongle! It took us a bit of scouting around to find the location, and it was a was a slow service, so we whiled away quite a bit of time while we downloaded weather forecasts, checked our emails, sent messages to our families and scanned social media - but it was worth it just to stay in touch - non communication might be peaceful, but it's also good to be informed. We returned to the beach and chatted to a few of the locals, who had very kindly stopped our dinghy from being completely swamped on the rising tide, then returned to Manookatoo for a cuppa and to collect the makings of a sausage sizzle. The A-frame hut, as well as being full of memorabilia, is set up well for preparing and cooking meals on their fireplace, so we enjoyed lunch and a couple of glasses of wine on-shore for a change! A short return to Manookatoo to prepare our pizza bases, then we were back onshore for sundowners, meeting boaties heading north and south - some returning home at the end of their winter cruising, some, like us, exploring new locations on the reef and mainland. Returning to our boat for Sunday night pizzas, we prepared Manookatoo for a new adventure tomorrow, heading on to other islands on our trip north.
Captain's Log: Great Keppel Island to Middle Percy Island
Distance: 127.3 nautical miles
Fuel consumption: 131.3 litres
Hours travelled: 31.25

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