Australia, Destinations, Oceania, Sailing

The First Two Weeks: Sailing from Mooloolaba to Pancake Creek

As anyone who reads this blog is more than aware, our sailing plans have not gone to plan for some time – but that has finally changed! See, as I write this I am serenaded by the gentle lapping of water against Avalon’s hull and the call of the migrating sea birds that call Pancake Creek home. We are 260 nautical miles north of our home port, Mooloolaba, after two weeks on the move and we are finally – finally – relaxing into the pace of life at sea.

We left the dock when our good friend Chesna arrived from WA to join Avalon for her planned weeklong holiday aboard. Alas, she’d booked her holidays ages ago, when we thought we’d be well and truly further north by the time she arrived, but due to the joint delays of rudders and ribs, we were still on our trusty little end dock behind the Bluewater Point apartments in Kawana on the Sunshine Coast. I felt bad, I’d hoped we’d be able to offer her blue water sailing and diving on the reef, but, despite the different location of her week aboard than planned, it turned out to be a magical week.

When we dreamed about this section of the sailing dream, the Queensland Coast, my mind had always wandered north, to the Great Barrier Reef, and didn’t really give much thought to the journey there, thus we entered this first leg of the journey with limited expectations. To be completely honest, I was just desperately hoping we didn’t encounter another delay, given the numerous false starts we’d had before.

It was not an auspicious day when we threw off the dock lines and turned the boat north.

Not exactly the sailing attire I thought I’d be wearing, but hey, at least we’re out here.

It was a dreary, rainy morning when we got up before the sunrise, put on all the jackets we owned, and motored out of the Mooloolaba canals for what we hoped would be the last time for a while. Teeth chattering against the winter that had well and truly arrived while we’d be doing boat and human healing, I pondered this start and how it differed so greatly from my original dream. In that dream, the one that sustained me through thousands of hours of office work and years of separation from the world, I did not wear sailing boots and multiple layers of clothing. In that dream, I was barefoot, the sun was shining, dolphins graced our bow, and I could see reef through the crystalline water beneath our hulls. Instead, here I was, 9 months into sailboat ownership, many hundreds of thousands of dollars poorer, and holding onto the ever decreasing hope that it would all be worth it…eventually.

Then the dolphins came.

In my family dolphins are good luck. If you see one, it will be a good day, and in my (almost) 30 years on the planet this nautical good luck sign has not failed me yet. So, when the first two dolphins jumped behind us, their grey bodies matching the grey sky, that tiny flame of hope grew brighter. Then the swell decided it was a little more rambunctious than predicted and we all got a bit fuzzy, as I like to euphemistically call that moment before you’re sea-sick, but when you’re not quite right – you know, when you start randomly burping, your head starts to hurt, and you get irrationally grumpy with the world. However, TravaCalm came to the rescue, and no one lost their lunch.

After about 10 hours of sailing with a bit of motoring thrown in, we passed Double Island Point and made for the lagoon. We’d been here once before, on a friend’s Seawind 1000XL last year, so we knew the lagoon was a great anchorage, but what we didn’t necessarily plan for was how much the lagoon could change in a year.

As we motored in, seemingly directly at the rust coloured cliffs with nothing but sandbar to our port – where the entrance should be – we began to question the past.

Communicating from the bow to the helm with our Bluetooth headsets I call marriage savers, I told Kane, “I don’t see it yet, but the entrance should be here. We know it’s here, there’s boats in the lagoon, just keep going.”

“You sure it’s here?” Kane asked from the lesser visibility location of the helm, dubious about me directing him to sail directly into a cliff (as it appeared from where he was).

“Ya, ya, just keep going.”

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the entrance appeared – all be it about ten times narrower than last year.

“Okay, it’s here, hard to port, but hug the beach, people say the water is deepest there.”

As we ghosted in about an hour before the high tide, we all held our breath. This was the shallowest water we’ve ever taken Avalon through – the lowest depth reading was 0.4 m under our keels (we draw 1.2 m) – and no one wanted to touch the bottom, least of all Kane who was already worried about the state of our antifoul, no need to leave any on the bottom.

Ten minutes later we were safely anchored in the calm as glass lagoon and cheers-ing to not hitting the bottom, when who showed up, but my beloved dolphins.

I squealed with joy as the slowly swam about the anchorage in the fading sun, their dorsal fins silhouetted against a glorious sunset. It was in that moment that I think I let go of the breath I’d been holding ever since our first less-than-successful foray away from the dock. We’d finally made it, we were cruising and it was glorious.

Watching dolphins from the bow of my own boat at sunset will never get old.

The rest of the week was a slow move north, we crossed Wide Bay Bar uneventfully (a notorious sandbar that you only attempt when swell is less than 1.5 m and wind is under 15 knots) to enter the mysteriously beautiful Great Sandy Straits where, you guessed it, more dolphins came to say hello – including a particularly memorable moment where a mum and a bub both jumped at the same time. The straits were not nearly as barren as I’d expected, and we had the privilege of anchoring just off diverse coastal forest land at Gary’s Anchorage. Chesna and Kane revealed in the flats fishing while I hung out on the boat sewing, writing, and watching the birds that seemed completely unperturbed by us – there was a majestic white bellied sea eagle that called one big white barked tree home and more than a few whistling kites dancing about.

Beach walks on K’gari.

From Gary’s we sailed in very light wind conditions with just our tiny little jib our and still managed to ghost along at 4-5 knots – my favourite kind of sailing – to Kingfisher Bay, where we enjoyed long beach walks to random, potentially World War II era, structures, drinks at the jetty bar, and the best evening entertainment I’ve had in a long while – jumping garfish.

The view from the bar at the jetty on K’gari island.

“Hold up”, you say, “how are garfish entertaining?” Well, turns out when you’re dinghying back from said drinks on the beach to dinner aboard at night you need to shine your spotlight ahead, so you don’t hit anything/end up where you want to end up. “This all makes sense”, you say, “obviously you need a light, how is that entertainment?” Also turns out that when you shine said large spotlight on the water and there are millions of baitfish below, they get spooked and become tiny little silver bullets jumping every which way out of the water. And, as you need to drive in the direction you shine the spotlight, you are now driving through said jumping schools of baitfish, much to your passengers’ enjoyment who have now all devolved into the hysterical laughter of gleeful children. I cannot fully describe the sheer joy and awe that I felt zipping about the bay surrounded by glittering schools of now flying bait fish, but just believe me, shoulder-checking fish that are flying over your dinghy, around your dinghy, and, occasionally, into your dinghy, is far more enjoyable than you’d think – though you will have to wash your sweater after as inadvertently playing football with fish leaves a smell. I’m certain the rest of the boats in the anchorage thought we were well and truly insane with our cackling, but it’s a moment I will never forget, doing dinghy zoomies with dancing bait fish under the light of a full moon.

Alas, normal people have work they need to return too, so we had to say goodbye to Chesna in Hervey Bay. From there Kane and I scooted rather quickly off to Bundaberg where we spent a less than comfortable night in the Burnet River and then did our first night sailing (we left at 2 am) from Bundy to Pancake Creek; where we plan to stay for at least a few days, before we must continue the northward movement to make it to Mackay in a week to pick up my adventurous parents who have decided to join their questionably sane daughter for two weeks of sailing in the Whitsundays (I jest, but, truly, I am so happy they are coming to visit, to get to share a glimpse of our sea life with them).

I’ll leave this long meandering post at that, that I am so happy this sailing plan changed from the original “buy in a far away country and sail back to Australia” to a “buy here”, where we have community, where our friends can join, where we have both support and people to share this glorious dream with “plan”. Almost every single wonderful day aboard Avalon has been able to be shared with friends from near and far and I cannot wait to extend that to family. Beauty and joy are just sweeter when shared.

P.S. Big thanks to Chesna for being just the best guest one could have aboard, you were a trooper with the lack of plans until right at the last minute, and I never once worried you weren’t having fun (well aside from the fuzzy moment, but hey, those happen to us all). You are always welcome back aboard Avalon.

Every adventure is sweeter when shared, it was so lovely to have you aboard, Ches.

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