Mackay to Airlie Beach [34]

By Don Andrews

Left Sydney at 0600 on 12/9/97 to drive to Mackay. Route taken was the New England Highway then highway 37 to Narrabri, Moree, then highway 55 to Roma. The first night was spent there after a 12 hour drive. Left Roma at 0830 and drove via Emerald, Clermont, then on the Peaks Down highway through to Mackay. An easy 9 hours drive with only 20km of dirt.

I met Frank Brandon at sea Winds Caravan Park, Blacks Beach. Just north of Mackay on Saturday evening. The bad news was that a south easter was blowing. The weather report that night said 22 knots with 1.7 metre swell.

On Sunday it was blowing even harder. E decided not to the car swap to Shute Harbour. Instead we drove up to Redcliff Island and to Cape Hillsborough National Park. The forecast for Monday was good with a 5 to 15 knot south-east to northeast wind. We did a trial pack on Sunday night.

The purpose of this trip was to test my new Pacific Tourer sea kayak. It is 19’4″ and 22″ wide with double kevlar lay up weighting 22 kilos, with electric bilge pump and a rapid flow foot pump.

Day 1

At 0800 it was 5 knot south easter, by 0900 the boats were packed and on the beach. The wind by now was 15 knots and the waves were pounding on the beach. With a 32 kilometre open water crossing to Brampton Island ahead of us we began to get negative vibes. The people in the caravan park thought we were mad, but after a quiet talk with Frank we decided if we could get off the beach we would pull away to the Newry Islands if it got too heavy. We left the beach at 9.30. I had no trouble getting off the beach, Frank had a bit of trouble with water getting past his spray skirt. We had to raft up four times and pump Franks cockpit out with his yabby pump. The waves were 1.5 metres and the wind 18 knots. We were on a broad reach. When we were level with Keswick Island some of the waves were coming through at 1.8 metres and tending to break. There was a storm on the horizon coming from the north east. At about 5 km. from Southern Point on Brampton Island, Cockermouth Island disappeared in the clouds, which was a worry as we did know not what to expect. At this stage we had been paddling for 3 hours and feeling a bit tired.

In Western Bay we ran in to a bit of rain and by Western point the sun was out. By the time we reached Brampton Roads the tide too low to get through. We finally landed at 1330 on Carlisle Island at Maryport Bay.

The crossing was quite hard. Waves were breaking over the cockpit area. I had some water in the cockpit but the pump emptied it with no trouble. Frank’s spray skirt was not working. The strap over the shoulder came undone. At one stage we were rafted up with Frank taking off his buoyancy vest while we tried to fix his spray skirt. The wind and waves were hitting us and it would have been a lot easier if he had had a pump installed. My meal that night was ham, cheese and macaroni.

Day 2

We left Carlisle Island and paddled to Brampton Resort where Frank got 4 litres of water. We then headed for Tinsmith at 0830 on a sunny 10 knot south easter increasing to 15 knots, with the swell coming from the east. This was not an easy crossing as we were against the tide and the waves were again on our side. The tide started to run out as we were off Tinsmith and I was worried about going between Linne Island and Goldsmith. We decided to go between Tinsmith and Linne which was a bad choice as half way through we saw 1.5 metre standing waves. We managed to turn before we got into them and fought the tide back. Then there was a tidal run around the point of Linne Island with 1 metre standing waves going in every direction. We stopped for lunch on Linne Island half way through the passage. Then on to Farrier Island and back to camp on the north end of Goldsmith. A 16 km. crossing and 12 km. spent looking around. Dinner that night was ham, potato and beans.

Day 3

We left Goldsmith at 0910, sunny 10-15 knot south easter. We got 3 litres of water from a yacht as we left. A hard 16km crossing against the tide with the sea again on our side. We stopped on a beach on the south east side of Thomas Island – a really nice beach. The tide changed while we were there and we paddled around to the central camping area on the northern side of Thomas Island. A hired yacht got the tide charts mixed up and spent the night high and dry. Dinner was macaroni with bolognaise sauce.

Day 4

Left Thomas Island at 0830, sunny south easter at 15 knots and a swell of 1-1.7 metres. A nice easy paddle to start with riding 1 metre waves Out in the Cumberland channel the waves were high and steep and a lot of care had to be taken. We rounded Burning Point on Shaw Island and went in to the beach for a early lunch. Then on to Neck Bay and set up camp arriving there at 1pm. We had 3 trailer sailors beached on the sand for company. Dinner was tuna and rice.

Pentecost Island – Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays in the background

Day 5

We left Shaw Island at 9am against the tide in the passage passing between Pentecost and Little Lindemand. A 10 knot south easter was blowing on a sunny day. We were surfing down 1 metre waves but not getting anywhere. BY the time we got to Hamilton Island the waves were 1.8 metres and the tide race in Dent Passage was challenging. We arrived in Hamilton Harbour for Lunch of salad rolls and custard tarts. The distance from Shaw to Hamilton was 22 Km. We then paddled across to the northern end of Henning island and camped the night Dinner was ham, potatoes and beans.

Day 6

We left Henning at 0730 through Fitzalan Passage on an incoming tide. We stopped at Hamilton for Frank to do some more shopping. We left an hour later at 0930 for Whitehaven Beach against the tide and a 7 knot easterly. We paddled through Solway Passage which I thought was the best part of the trip. We stopped at a crowded Whitehaven Beach for lunch at 12 noon. We left there at 1300 for Esk Island where we had a stretch for 10 mins. Then on to Border Island and camped at Cateran Bay. Border Island was extremely nice arriving at 1530. We did 40km that day. Dinner was ham and fettuccini in cheese sauce.

Elk Island with Border Island in the background

Day 7

We left Border Island at 0710 arriving at Hook Passage at 0810. A 5 knot north ester and .5 metre swell. We went through the passage on an incoming tide, then on to Cid Island and across to Planton Island in a 15 knot north easter. An early lunch at 1100 there and then along South Molle to Deedes Point where we encountered a really bad tide run. Frank had a lot of trouble with it and he through it was the worst water on the trip. We checked out Bauer Bay and then went on to Unsafe Passage and North Molle, where we camped for the night. It had a water tank. We paddled 36km. Dinner was rice and tuna.

Day 8

We left north Molle at 0730 A hard paddle across the tide in a 15 knot north easter. A tide race off Pioneer Point then a tricky ride to Airlie Beach on 1 to 1.5 metre waves on a loose broad reach. We arrived at the Yacht Club at 1000, unpacked and hosed the boats off. We had a shower for the first time since setting out. The caravan park at Blacks Beach had arranged for a driver to deliver my vehicle so we had couple of drinks while we waited for it to arrive which much better than spending a day doing a car swap.