The Stewart family buy a boat, jack it all in and go sailing!

Goodbye Whitsundays (and goodbye comfort zone!)

Here we are in sunny Mackay. Mackay is only about 60nm from Airlie Beach but in a southerly direction! Yup, we’re finally on our way to Hervey Bay.

On the 15th November we pulled into Airlie Beach for the last time to take on water and provision. Matt took advantage of being in flat, non-rolly water to go up the mast and fit the new wind instruments. We now have a working display in the cockpit showing wind direction and speed, something I especially was really excited about.

We also collected some items we’d been waiting for – a new injector for the generator plus some bigger sail slides and jackstays. The jackstay is a line of webbing, made of seatbelt material, that runs down the deck on both side of the boat. It’s permanently secured at both ends, and if you need to go on deck in rough weather you clip your harness on and it keeps you attached to the boat. We weren’t planning on going out in bad weather but you never know.

We also made arrangements to leave our one remaining car at a friend’s property. We’re hoping to collect it in the new year and use it in Hervey Bay, then finally sell it down there when we’re ready to head North again, after the cyclone season.

We only had one night in Abell Point Marina and left at lunchtime the next day. We weren’t ready to head off that afternoon though, and the swell in Pioneer Bay was pretty bad, so we nipped around the corner to Funnel Bay. There we were much better protected from the Easterly swell, but not from the bullets of wind zipping down the hills. Iron Will danced around on her anchor chain in 25-30 knots of wind. We were glad to up anchor early on Friday morning and head out to Lindeman.

We were heading south-east and of course the winds were south-easterly too, making it hard to sail, so we motored most of the way. The winds were quite strong too, about 15-20 and uncomfortably on the nose. This wasn’t too bad as we came down protected Molle Channel and past Shute Harbour, but as we came into the more open Lindeman Passage we started bouncing and rolling. Matt and I were fine but Tilly & Sasha came up into the cockpit, looking green, and curled up on one side each. They weren’t sick but I felt for them both.

After three hours we anchored in Boat Port, at Lindeman Island. It’s a beautiful area with lots of wild, rugged, mountainous islands. Lindeman used to have a working resort but it hasn’t been open for years (having crossed Lindeman Passage I can guess at part of the reason!). Boat Port is sheltered from the dreaded southeasterlies and we soon had the tender in the water and went ashore hoping to do one of the many walks/hikes around the island.

Much of Lindeman is a National Park, but they’re clearly having trouble staying on top of the walks there, especially since Cyclone Debbie. There was a sign at the start of the walk saying CLOSED; we walked a bit further hoping if it was just a couple of fallen tress we could step over them, but there just wasn’t a track. Debbie has wreaked havoc and the jungle has started to reclaim the rest. It was strange seeing how fast any signs of humans are eradicated. There was still a basic campsite and longdrop loo, but it felt like it was just a matter of time before these sank back into nature too.

So we wandered around the pretty beach and remains of an old barge landing that was used to take sheep off the island. It’s such a pretty place but eerie too. I would have loved to explored the island more, but the lack of walking tracks made it difficult, plus there were some strong winds forecast and we were keen to get further south to a good anchorage.

On early Saturday morning we weighed anchor again, with the kids still asleep (or trying to be, with the anchor chain rattling into the locker by their feet!) and had a fantastic sail to Brampton Island, through the Goldsmith group and Linne Islands.

The sun shone, the sky was blue, the wind brisk but kind and Iron Will was in her element, surging along under jib and mizzen. Matt and I took turns to helm and Tilly and Sasha sat in the cockpit and polished rocks that Nana & Poppy had bought them from Foot’s Gallery in Airlie Beach (click HERE). This was the kind of sailing we love.

Just before lunch we dropped anchor off the old ruined jetty at Brampton. This is another resort that has sadly fallen into disuse. Apparently it used to be owned by P&O and was a very exclusive and lovely place to stay. It became run down, United Petroleum bought it in 2010 and it’s been empty every since.

Like Lindeman, it has a caretaker ashore and visitors are discouraged. You can see why, the buildings are in a bad way and the structures look far from safe. However most of the island is still National Parks with many beautiful walks.

We stayed at Brampton for four days. The anchorage was well protected and only occasionally rolly. We were joined at anchor by several other boats, and, as it’s more remote than the “main” Whitsunday Islands, people seem to be a lot more social, visiting each other in their tenders.

We really enjoyed it and Matt took the girls “adventuring” to a different beach every day. We also wanted to do some of the walks, but sadly all but one of them are closed.

We watched for a weather window to hop over to Mackay, and on Wednesday the winds were forecast to drop to 10-15 knots. So, bright and early, with the sun shining and a blue sky, we upped anchor and headed off on the four-hour passage to Mackay.

It was the worst passage so far! The wind and cloud cover continued to build through the morning, and lines of squalls swept through. The wind was gusting 30 knots and visibility was down to nothing. We had the tide with us, but this meant wind against tide, resulting in choppy and uncomfortable seas. This part of water is also quite shallow – shoals – so in these sort of conditions, the seas “stood up” quite a bit, and poor old Iron Will (and us with her) was flung around quite a bit. It was awful. The crashing and banging went on for hours, no one was sick but we all felt terrible. Matt was a true stoic and helmed the whole way, out in the rain, keeping the boat at the best angle for the waves. Even though, sadly, that wasn’t the quickest route, it was the safest and most comfortable for the conditions.

We were all very relieved when we finally made Mackay Marina and motored in through the outer harbour breakwater, past all the vast ships loading sugar.

Actually, as we came in, a small light game fishing boat came out. We watched, incredulous, at someone voluntarily coming out into the foul conditions we were escaping. They cleared the breakwater and accelerated into the wind and big waves, got airbourne very quickly, crashed up and down a few times, wrestled for control, hastily turned 180 degrees and tucked in behind us to come back into safety.

We were very thankful to tie up to the fuel dock and for our world to stop moving and become peaceful again.

Mackay Marina is a lovely place, we’ve been here nearly a week now waiting for the weather to improve (along with a lot of other boaties!) It’s buzzy and friendly and Matt has been delighted how easy it is to get parts and equipment. We don’t have a car but have taken the bus into town to do some Christmas shopping. I tried shopping with Coles online and had our food delivered to the marina – it was so easy! Some friends we made at Brampton kindly lent us their car on Saturday, and we went and voted (Sasha: “you must vote for Huddy’s grandma!”) then had a family trip to the cinema. It felt like such a treat, sitting in the dark and eating pick ‘n’ mix!

There’s also a playpark at the top of the marina which the girls love. They’re very disgruntled that we won’t let them go there on their own, but the café opposite does great coffee so we don’t mind going once a day!

The beach at Mackay is wild and windswept and we love afternoon visits when the heat has gone out of the sun. It’s too wild to swim but we make beach creations, paddle and count the ships anchored miles out, waiting to go into Hay Point to pick up coal and take it off to the rest of the world (15 yesterday).

The weather is forecast to improve this week. The wind is hopefully dying down and swinging from south-east (which is the exact direction we want to go in) to east and then maybe even north. We don’t mind motoring but really love to sail, which is usually much more comfortable as well.

We’re hoping to get to Gladstone in the next week or two, via Middle Percy and the Keppels and whatever other islands we need to stop at on the way. There are plenty to choose from and we’re planning on day passages only. We’re looking forward to travelling down with some of the friends we’ve made too, and will make sure we do everything we can to avoid the kind of conditions we encountered coming to Mackay.

Here’s looking for fair winds and following seas.