The Hinchinbrook Channel

Mon 28 Jun 2010 01:54
Date Monday morning, 28th June
Previous anchorages    Little Pioneer Bay, Orpheus Island, Palm group 18:35S 146:29E
                                  Scrubby Point, Hinchinbrook Channel, 18:17.1S 146:06.5 E
Current position            Rockingham Bay 18:09.4S 146:04.6E
Good Morning, The downside is that we have hit a hole in the wind pattern, with just a little SW wind this morning insufficient to send us anywhere. Same yesterday, but the upside was perfect conditions to traverse the Hinchinbrook Channel: a must do according to the pilot guides and the Lonely Planet, and so it turned out. Firstly our trip up here: another excellent passage: thanks, it must be said, to the wind rather than any nautical skills aboard. We left Airlee Point at 10.15 hours, Hannah taking her turn to release the mooring lines and jump aboard our fast reversing yacht from the pontoon finger at the very last minute. A diminishing wind of initially force seven was forecast, but inshore at least we had only a light breeze to carry us out to Armit Island where we could turn to resume our passage up the coast. As we approached this mark the seas kicked up a little, enough to start the mainsail and its sheet slatting about. From the other side of the cockpit I watched in awe and wonder as a loop of rope snaked under the winch handle, then cleanly lifted it out of its socket, and finally flipped it with a double back sommersault overboard and down into Davey Jones' wet storage department. You get quite fond of inanimate objects, and that winch handle had been with us since 2005, and had seen off so many windy challenges in the depths of night that he was practically part of the family. I said a little prayer for him at lunchtime, and then vowed to replace him in Cairns with a locking handle version: the King is Dead, Long live the King! Meantime we do have a spare: spares do take up space, but at sea there are no shops.
Vowing to be a little more careful and watchful I set our new course, noting that we would pass close to Rattery Island. Popping below for the proverbial cuppa, I emerged as on so many occasions to find said Island dead ahead, but still about 5 cables off. No panic. Rather than the hassle of gybing I chose to sail as close as possible to the cliffs, oblivious of the depth guage until its anchorage alarm triggered at 0.5 metres of water under our keel. Panic, gybe all standing, ropey mess in the cockpit, but no grounding. Will I never learn? From below, forward: 'What was that? Don't you know I'm trying to read?'
With the last of the small offshore Islands in our wake we faced a long run towards Cape Bowling Green (yes, it is the flattest cape on the whole coast). I was fretting that the wind would, as forecast, die away, but instead it steadily got up, and by dusk we were making really good progress, rolling quite a bit however, and so supper of pasta and garlic tomato sauce was an easy choice: it can be eaten with a spoon out of a bowl!
An overnight sail: a good passage wind, and anyway no comfortable anchorages. Hannah took the first watch. I was woken at 23.30 hrs with the succinct 'It's raining, the wind's changed, I'm going to bed!'
She was right on all counts, but the rain was not much, and the change in wind direction was to our favour, saving me from a night time spinnaker pole gybe. Problem was the force seven winds. A great sail in a fully crewed boat, but our double reefed main was feeling the strain, and we were sailing well up to our maximum hull speed, so it was logical to pull down the third reef again. Always an effort at night, and wet, as we had to come onto the wind and waves for a few minutes; but well worth it, with better balance and a less 'out of control roller coaster feel' to the proceedings. Speed quite unaffected. Rounded the Cape at 03.00 hours, and then settled down for the run accross Cleveland Bay towards the Palm Islands. Not much traffic about, and at dawn I retired to my bunk for some sleep. Hannah made an early call to the loo, and woke me up. 'Arn't you supposed to be keeping watch?' Little Darling.The Wind Gods smiled again during daylight, and we ran all day towards the Islands: Mostly under Aboriginal control, and we were warned, crime was rampant (I do wonder if these warnings are actually true). Anyway gathering dusk and the attraction of a sheltered anchorage were all the incentives that we needed. We did have an 'enjoyable' exercise navigating through the narrow passage between Pelorus and Orpheus Islands in the face of my incorrectly placed GPS plots, but fortunately we had arrived with 20 minutes of daylight remaining: I am a cat with nine lives, or what?
Yes, we did wonder about the names, but neither of us can remember enough of the myth to know how appropriate these might be. Pelorus is round and pointy, Orpheus long and thin: can't see that that helps much! Anyway Orpheus has a nice anchorage in Little Pioneer bay and that is where we dropped our hook in the company of three boats lying on courtesy moorings. Next morning one of these boats was off at 06.30. The crew were courteus enough to wake us up. I shot up into the cockpit, pulling on some trousers as I went. 'We think you might be dragging your anchor' they said. 'Oh, thanks' I mumbled, noting that we were as firmly rooted to the bottom as we had been all night. An odd incident, but we did have plenty of scope out, and with only a light early morning breeze we may have been drifting around our anchor with the current. Over breakfast we reviewed progress: 180 nm in 33 and a bit hours, not at all bad.
A gentle sail over to Lucinda: a Sugar Port at the entrance to the Hinchinbrook Channel. There is a sand bar here, so the port had to be entered from the Channel rather that the open sea: a fifty mile detour for south bound ships.Finally, after the first jetty was destroyed in a collision with a freighter during servere weather in the confined swinging basin, a very long jetty was built out over the bar to open water. Smacks of one planning cock up after another. I should know!!
We did careful tide calculations to see if we would get over the bar, and I anounced to the crew that we would have a least a metre and a half to spare. Hannah bet that there would be less than one metre. She has such faith. The least we recorded was 0.6 metres so I lost the bet and another of my nine lives. 
The Hinchinbrook Channel is spectacular. The mountains of Hinchinbrook Island lift the moist tradewinds up, and it rains all the time. It is a classical verdant tropical rainforest area, and the foreshores are equally green with very extensive mangroves. The Channel, on average a half mile wide is (today) completely calm, and it is a strange change to the rolling blue ocean. We got through to the northern end, anchoring off Scraggy Point. Actually a beautiful spot with a beach and palm trees. Off again at first light and with quite a dense early morning fog. It is years since I have seen fog. Picked up an internet signal outside the only settlement in the Channel, so we both did some emails before breakfast. Hannah says we lost the world cup to the Fatherland 4-1. Won't do much to boost sterling, will it!