Thursday, 12 June 2014

And now for something completely different!

A six month voyage of discovery!

The owners of Pendana, a Nordhavn 62 decided to embark on a six month, 2,500nm round trip from Sydney, Australia up to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands which is often referred to as the third best cruising grounds in the world, after the Bahamas and Mediterranean.

Departing Sydney, Australia, Pendana departed carrying enough fuel and spares to see her make landfall in Hawaii if the need should arise. As a nasty cold front was closing in on Sydney her departure was not with clear blue skies overhead but rather dark, ominous clouds forming out to sea just to the south east of Sydney Heads. Realising they would be able to sneak ahead of the large cloud front and take advantage of the following seas she headed out, for what everyone aboard hoped to be, an adventure of a lifetime!

On board for the journey were Pendana’s owners James and Claire Ellingford, their two children Abi and Bianca aged 13yrs and 9yrs together with regular crew member and general all round nice guy, Captain Mark James. James Ellingford has always maintained that any run over twenty four hours requires three crew as being tired on watch is not a smart thing to do while at sea. With the appropriate crew you have the freedom of running a four hour on, eight hour off watch cycle which allows for all to remain well rested and alert for whatever situation may arise. Mistakes happen when people are tired.

Pendana’s first day at sea saw her humming along doing a steady 9.3kts, consuming a very respectable 18 litres of fuel an hour in what were far more reasonable conditions than had been forecasted. She faced 14kt winds, two meter following seas with a generous eleven second period.

Pendana departing in less than ideal conditions.

As some would know June is the whale migration season where the whales from the Southern Ocean migrate north to warmer waters north along the east coast of Australia. By complete chance once Pendana was clear of the heads a very large barnacled hump back whale surfaced within about eight feet from Pendana’s starboard side amidships as if wishing us well on our journey north.

The first leg of our Pendana’s trip north from Sydney is to Lady Musgrave Island which is a large coral cay with, I might add, an alarmingly narrow entrance. From Lady Musgrave, Pendana will then head further north to the Percy Group of Islands on advice from a fellow mariner who said that Middle Percy is hands down the best of the Whitsundays! Following from the Percy Group Pendana will head further north to explore the more traditional islands of Hayman, Hamilton, Hook, Shaw and as many of the seventy islands in the Whitsunday group as possible.

The Whitsundays are comprised of 74 islands within a 40 nautical mile radius on Australia’s northeast coast, with Hamilton Island being the largest of the six islands that are inhabited. These tropical islands offer deserted, fine sand beaches, lush bushland, and remarkable flora, fauna and sea life. The Great Barrier Reef which is literally on the Whitsundays doorstep is, in fact, one of the world’s seven natural wonders stretching over 2,300 kilometres and covering some 350,000 square kilometres (nearly the size of Germany) consisting of a myriad of lagoons, atolls, sand cays and coral outcrops that simply must be experienced to be able to be fully appreciated.

After a little over three days at sea Pendana had arrived at Lady Musgrave Island and all any of us on board could say was, WOW! The lagoon’s amazing colours and beauty are world class. Boasting an abundance of coral, fish and turtles the lagoons water is very similar to that in the Bahamas or Nice, in the South of France. Crystal clear deep turquoise blue water that is simply incredible. For snorkelling enthusiasts Lady Musgrave Island is one of the most rewarding destinations in the Great Barrier Reef, with a diverse variety of fish and coral species creating the perfect underwater setting for those lucky enough to get to enjoy it!

The entrance into Lady Musgrove was narrow but well-marked with two starboard makers, one port marker and an isolated danger marker once inside. Any error in going through the entrance would be met with catastrophic consequences as the coral walls drop for metres below the surface of the water.

Once we’d had enough of Lady Musgrave Island we departed and headed further north to Middle Percy Island where we arrived early morning. Middle Percy, without any doubt, was in a word, sensational and certainly a must-stop for all who find themselves in this area! First charted by Matthew Flinders, and named after the Duke of Northumberland, Middle Percy is the quintessential tropical island. Palm trees (complete with coconuts) white sand, crystal clear blue water, butterflies, starfish, seals and dolphins to boot.

Middle Percy was the last remaining leasehold island off the Queensland coast. However, this is no longer the case with a Queensland government department now managing the island and ensuring it is kept in its pristine state. The island is still bound to a tradition of providing fresh water and supplies to passing seafarers. Past leaseholders have always helped mariners in trouble and assisted with emergency repairs over the many years and as such seafarers feel a real sense of home when stepping ashore.

Middle Percy also holds the tradition where seafarers young and old leave memorabilia from their boats under an old rustic A-Frame set just back from the beach. It is absolutely incredible to look at the variety of items left over the years by visitors to Middle Percy, everything from messages in bottles, oars, clothing, barometers, flags, life buoys, engravings on wood, and more, abound with vessel and crew names and years of those lucky enough to have spent time on this lovely island.

Pendana’s owners prepare to leave behind a life ring.
Middle Percy’s A-Frame.

Spending more time than we should in paradise, which was Middle Percy Island we decided it was time to make the short, 160nm run north to Cid Harbour which was by all accounts a very safe, well protected anchorage on the west side of Whitsunday Island.

Cid Harbour
One thing that has struck all of us is how un-Australian the Whitsundays actually appear to be; we would all swear that when motoring around the islands that the appearance of them is more akin to cruising in Canada than Australia and while one would expect to see the islands littered with various species of gum trees (indigenous Australian tree) nothing could be further from the truth. Norfolk Pines are the order of the day! Islands with sheer cliff faces, steep hillsides slanting acutely down into the blue/green waters, covered in rich, dark green Norfolk Pines right down to the absolute edge making the whole experience rather surreal. We all thought that one wouldn’t be surprised to see a Canadian brown bear leaping from the land in search of lunch but alas, not to be. I must say that it is an incredibly beautiful part of the world and some of those attractions lie in its complete difference to the mainland.

After spending time exploring in and around Cid Harbour we decided to move Pendana to the very beautiful Whitehaven Beach so that we could drop anchor, have lunch and then go for a swim in the afternoon.

Whitehaven Beach is on the east side of Whitsunday Island and with confidence building after successfully navigating the narrow entrance of Lady Musgrave, we decided to travel through the narrow passage between Hook and Whitsunday Islands which is also the most convenient route to take paying particular attention to the effect of tides and current.

In this part of the world tides flood (incoming) to the south and ebb (out-going) to the north and can create strong currents up to 9kts in some parts so after checking with my new best friend, the Queensland tide table book, we were confident that our arrival in the passage between islands would be at almost slack tide making the effects of current null and void. With Claire at the helm it was clear that while the current was not a problem there were certainly times when Pendana would yaw off course due to the current’s residual effects but as always, Pendana handled it with ease correcting as she went.

Passage between Hook and Whitsunday Island.
This is part 1 of James Ellingford's account of his family's wonderful voyage to Paradise. Part 2 will follow shortly.

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The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water