Eagle Island

Eagle Island, part of the Great Barrier Reef

We are still at Eagle Island.  Yesterday the smoke from the fires on Lizard Island diminished and the boats that were with us either returned to Lizard Island, or continued north.  We were going to continue north today as well.  But I got on a Skype session with a professional colleague (we still have access to 3G from Lizard) about our research collaboration, and the day went by without us getting prepared. So we decided to stay here another day.

We were able to snorkel in three different places on the reef around Eagle Island and it was quite nice, although a bit on the cool side.  The highlight is the giant clams.  The biggest are 3 feet (1 meters) across and about 2 feet (0.6 meter) tall, and must weigh a couple of hundred pounds.  That is a lot of clam.  They are the largest bivalve mollusks in the world.  The color of their lips vary from clam to clam.  Below is a photo we took of a smallish one that was just below were we anchored the dinghy.

Giant Clam, Eagle Island

We are planning to leave for the Flinders Islands tomorrow (Saturday) morning at 0400.  It is about an 80 nautical mile sail.  There is no shortage of wind this week.  It is unlikely that we will have internet access for the next week, but we cannot know until we get there.  We will continue to day sail up the coast until we round Cape York and move away from the Great Barrier Reef.



Eagle Island at low tide
Beach at Eagle Island with Lizard Island in the background


We were expecting to spend a few more days in Lizard Island, as were almost a dozen boats at anchor there, until two National Park Rangers came by the day before yesterday to tell us that they were going to start a controlled burn of brush and grass the next day and that we should strongly consider leaving.  That was a bolt out of the blue.  Yesterday morning early, quite a few boats left for the longish passage to the next secure anchorage, Flinders Island, about 75 miles away.  About 6 boats decided to stay and see how much smoke and ash there would be.

Sabbatical III left to try anchoring behind tiny Eagle Islet about 5 miles away.  We were prepared to sail on if we could not find secure anchorage there.  With Laura up in the mast to look for coral and rocks, we anchored fairly comfortably in uncharted waters.  This morning, the second days of fires at Lizard, five other boats came over to join us after we told them that Eagle Islet was a decent anchorage and the smoke and ash at Lizard became worse. At least we had the opportunity to hike the two best trails at Lizard.  The newly arrived boats did not hike at all and the trails are closed for 4 more days.

Progress to date: Started at the white icon, now at the yellow icon, leave Australia from the red icon

White is Scarborough, Yellow is Lizard Island, Red is Darwin




Hinchinbrook Channel

We left Magnetic Island yesterday heading for Cairns via the Hinchinbrook Channel.  The Hinchinbrook Channel is a relatively narrow strait between the mainland and the high island of Hinchinbrook, which is a national park.  It took most of the day to get to the channel entrance where it is quite shallow at the entrance bar.  We anchored 10 miles up the channel in a beautiful sheltered spot.  Today we went up the remainder of the channel (about 20 miles) and then across to Dunk Island, where we are now anchored for the night.  Tomorrow we will continue north to Fitzroy Island and then arrive in Cairns the next day (Sunday).


We spent much of our last day in Magnetic Island with Mike and Lynn of “Wombat of Sydney.”  Wombat was with us at Huon and Chesterfield Reef last year, and we have known them since French Polynesia.  They are also heading to Darwin.  We will likely see them again in Cairns in a few days.



View from the Hinchinbrook Channel
Magnetic Island to Dunk Island via Hinchinbrook Channel


Enjoy your walk

Enjoy your walk

Magnetic Island has turned out to be a place that we have really enjoyed.  The marina is quiet and inexpensive with an excellent restaurant and an IGA supermarket next door.  By staying three days in the marina (which is small and practically empty), we received a $50 coupon for dinner at the restaurant and a $25 coupon for wine with dinner.  The meal we ordered was delicious and elegantly served, and so was the wine.  With the coupon the meal was practically free.

There are great walks on the island, and a bus to take you to trail heads.  There is also wildlife to be seen — rock wallabies live on the breakwater, koalas in the trees (see photo below), and death adders, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world, crawl in the bush. There are beautiful and strange bird calls day and night even in the marina, and flocks of parrots fly from tree to tree.  — M.

Birds eat crumbs off of table
Baby koala naps in tree
Car advertising artists studio
Sabbatical III at Magnetic Island
Bananas are like gold this year (US $8 a pound)



Magnetic Island

We left Airlie Beach yesterday around midday for an overnight sail to Magnetic Island, just opposite Townsville.  We had good wind the whole way.  One-half of Magnetic Island is part of the Great Barrier Reef National Park.  The other half is a commercial tourist development with souvenir shops, jet ski rentals, and expensive eateries.

This map reflects our progress to date.  The white icon is Scarborough, where we started,  the yellow icon is Scawfell Island in the southern Whitsunday Islands where we hid from bad weather for five days, the red icon is Airlie Beach, and the green icon is Magnetic Island.  The dark patch off to the east of the icons is the Great Barrier Reef.  We still have a long way to go to get to Darwin.


Scarborough to Magnetic Island

The photo below is of the fishing harbor in Rosslyn Bay where we spent two nights.

Rosslyn Bay
Rosslyn Bay



May 19, 2011
We suddenly found ourselves with no means of posting the blog after leaving Rossyln Bay – so nearly a week has passed since we wrote about the crocodiles. After leaving Rossyln Bay we sailed to two other anchorages in quick succession – both of them about 8 hour sails. We wanted to continue to make progress up the coast, but still tie up in a comfortable anchorage to sleep at night. (The bays were called Pearl Bay and Middle Island of the Percy Isles for the record) . We ended up doing quite a bit of motoring as the winds were light and the weather was fine – really beautiful, but not that good for sailing. We started seeing very high winds and seas coming up in the forecast so we made our way to Scawfell Island which is a fairly big island with huge hills that surround a very large and supposedly comfortable and well protected bay. We ended up spending a very long 5 nights at Scawfell. After we arrived the wind and seas both picked up and there were “wind warnings” out over the marine radio. The hills protected us from the high seas, but the winds seemed to accelerate as they came over the hills and into the bay, and between the high winds and huge tides, the boat was very uncomfortable for a lot of the time–rolling and bobbing around almost as bad as being at sea. The wind was whistling and screaming through the rigging constantly and it really started to get on our nerves. There ended up being 7 boats in the anchorage and no-one left their boats at all (except for one evening). We felt a bit trapped, not able to go to land and walk on the pretty beach or even visit with anyone else except by radio. Oh well, today the winds finally let up a bit and we finally left (as did all the other boats) and we had the most beautiful sail up to our next anchorage. Great wind and we sailed through the long beautiful islands of the Whitsunday’s where both winds and currents were going our way which gave us an incredibly smooth and fast ride. We felt like we were just skimming the surface of the water – just gliding over the seas – and yet going at 9 knots of speed – pretty much as fast as we ever go. . Just wish we had left Scawfell a few days earlier and sailed here. How much scrabble can you play?

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Crocodile Dundee lives!

May 10, 2011: Crocodile Dundee lives!

We met an Aussie today – a nice guy named Sean who gave us some important advice regarding fishing and crocs which we wanted to pass on to you – BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW when you might need it.

First of all… you don’t really have to worry about crocs since :

1.)    The big ones are old and that means that they grew up when it was legal to shoot crocodiles – and apparently they are smart enough to associate the sound of an outboard motor (on your dinghy) with the memory of being shot at in their youth – and so, Sean tells us, as long as you are running your engine they won’t bother you.  

2.)    The smaller ones who don’t remember being shot at  will probably be curious about you but also will be afraid of the sound of an engine and so they too should bugger off if you run your outboard.

3.)    You only have to worry about the first bite….

1.  Sean is a hired skipper who brings boats here and there around Australia and across various oceans. Before doing that he ran fishing charters so he also gave us good tips on how to catch barramundi (a delicious Australian fish).  He also pointed out the crocs won’t be interested in your fishing pole, and even if they do, they will just snap it off before you have time to react anyways.

2.  He also ran crocodile tours, so I guess he knows what he is talking about. He invited us to call when we get farther north and he will show us around the rain forests near Port Douglas where he lives when he is not off sailing. 

3.  He was super enthusiastic about how beautiful it is up north – and he assures us that as long as we don’t try swimming in or near any of the rivers we will be fine.  The crocs apparently are “rarely” seen on beaches this time of year. (What a comfort!)  This information was conveyed along with a few asides about the fact that it is now safe to swim because the deadly poisonous box jellyfish season is over. This is one strange country.

For those of you who enjoy Bill Bryson’s writing, pick up a copy of “In a Sunburned Country” and read Part III which gives the most accurate and hysterically funny description of this part of Australia.

We are currently in Rosslyn Bay on the mainland – just a short sail from our previous anchorage at Great Keppel Island.  We had to come over here to pick up another pump and do a bit of provisioning.  The stop has been well worth it.  The name of the town closest to us was worth the trip alone: “Yeppoon”. The next closest town is called “Emu Park”. You have to love this place.

Tomorrow we head north another 50 miles to Pearl Bay.


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Ashore on Great Keppel Island

Beach at Great Keppel Island

We put our dinghy back in the water today and paid a visit to the mostly uninhabited Great Keppel Island, which is a national park.  We are already in crocodile country, which freaked us out a little bit even though they rarely come out to the offshore islands.  The saltwater crocs range up to 24 feet and can be rather unfriendly.  No sign of them ashore.  Just a couple miles of perfect beach.  We also walked in the bush on a path, carefully looking for spider webs stretched across the way.  Here are some photos of this place.


Flora of Great Keppel Island


Safe arrival at Great Keppel Island

We arrived an hour ago at Great Keppel Island after a 51 hour sail from Scarborough. We had light to moderate winds the first day followed by 30+ knot winds the second day. It was a pretty good sail, although all that wind on day 2 made it a bit wearing. The occasional large wave would give Sabbatical III a good toss, making the boat roll deeply and sending anything even remotely loose knocking against whatever was next to it. During the night, whoever was off watch was protected by 6 or 8 pillows placed against the lee board of the sleeping berth. There was quite a bit of freighter traffic coming into Brisbane and Gladstone/Rockhampton, but we saw them all on our AIS display and they never came too close.M.

Sent from my iPad

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Departing for Great Keppel Island

It is Tuesday evening in Australia.  Tomorrow morning we will finally start our trip up the east coast of Australia.  We have given up on visiting the coral atoll “Lady Musgrave” as the conditions are not right.  Instead, we will undertake a 340 nautical mile, two day passage to Great Keppel Island near Yeppoon.  It is supposed to have great swimming and walks, and a reasonably protected anchorage (unlike Lady Musgrave).  We will head to the outside of  Fraser Island and then inside the Great Barrier Reef at Lady Eliot.    The map below shows the area from Scarborough (yellow icon) to Great Keppel Island (red icon).



Scarborough to Great Keppel Island
Scarborough to Great Keppel Island

Preview of passage from Scarborough to Darwin

Scarborough to Darwin
Scarborough to Darwin
Scarborough to Darwin

The map above shows the area that we will sail through during the next two months. We will go from Scarborough (Redcliffe) near Brisbane in Queenland (the yellow icon) to Darwin, in the Northern Territory, the red icon. We will cover about 4000 kilometers (2100 nautical miles).


Preparing for departure

Well, I finally have time to write a blog entry. We have been in Australia for 2 weeks now, and back on the boat for all but the first two days when we stayed at a cute little B&B (while our boat was still out of the water).  The boat got put into the water on Friday, the 15th of April and since then we have been working, working, working.  So much to do – even after we put in so much effort last November to make sure everything was in good shape.  I guess the boat just keeps aging and things start to fall apart more and more. (Kind of like us!)  Since we have been back Mark has had to fix the fresh water pump, install a new flush pump for the toilet, replace the manual bilge pump, re-attach the auto-pilot, replace all the fresh water hoses, flush and clean the yucky, filthy bilge (where we found among other things a couple of long lost screwdrivers), install a new remote control for the autopilot and other instruments – then as part of just normal boat preparation we had to  re-attached the back-stays, lift the mizzen boom, put up all three sails (which had been taken off for the season), change the water filters, re-insert the knot reader (speed instrument), refill the propane tanks, etc.,etc.  I won’t bore you with more of this, but Mark’s list was huge, and mine was equally long ( although maybe a bit more enjoyable as most of it involved buying and storing food!) The deck of our boat looks like a tornado swept through – but we hope to get the clutter put away tomorrow, finish up our provisioning, and actually start heading north on Saturday.

The weather fluctuates between beautiful and  nasty – with strong winds and lots of rain in the forecast for the next few days.  We are looking for a break in the bad weather to start heading north as we would like to get north to Lady Musgrave (a coral reef about 240 miles north of here) for our first stop.   This marks the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef  which we will sail along for the next 6 weeks or so….

Guess that makes all this hard work so worthwhile.

We will say good-bye to Scarborough Marina and the little town of Redcliffe where we have spent a couple of months each year since first arriving in Australia at the end of 2008.




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Back to Australia

We are back in Scarborough, Queensland, Australia after a tiring set of flights from Providence. Instead of our usual two flights to get to Brisbane, we had four because of the limitations of our round-the-world airline ticket. As soon we arrived in Aukland, New Zealand we checked the monitor to see when our flight to Brisbane was leaving. We noticed that the monitor listed a flight that was already boarding and we wished we were on it since it was 3 hours until the next one. So we sat down to relax in the terminal for a while, and then i went scouting out a place for breakfast. As I came up the escalator, a uniformed flight agent was calling my name. How odd I thought. It turned out that we were on the flight that was boarding, and they were looking for us. They were also calling our name on the public address system. So we ran quickly to the farthest gate to get the on the plane that they were holding for us. We both thought we had a two hour layover in Aukland and did not bother to check out boarding passes on arrival. The only silver lining on this episode is the possibility that their holding the plane allowed our baggage to get transferred. All 250 pounds of our checked baggage made it on the plane. After our bags were X-rayed, the Australian security agent asked if we had a toilet seat in one of the bags, and why we did. The answer, that we had a boat, was good enough for him. I guess that they have seen enough “yachties” to know we pack odd gear with us. (The marine toilet seat we had cost us $16 in the US, but we were quoted $185 in Australia. Perhaps they plate them with gold in Australia).

“Sabbatical III” received it’s final coats of bottom paint today, and had the prop cleaned and coated with Prop-Speed. She goes into the water tomorrow (Friday) at 4 pm. It is a good thing that we booked the boat painting and launching early since it is a crazy period in the marina. The school holidays begin next week, along with the unusual juxtaposition of Good Friday/ Easter with ANZAC Day, resulting in a five day national holiday, plus next week is the start of an important ocean race. All the Aussie boats are trying to either get ready for the holiday, or get ready for the race. Finally, we posted some new video from last years cursing season on our web site. Go to our home page at https://sabbatical3.net and click on the new video link.


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