Friday, 8 July 2016

Further North – Pearl Bay via Marble & Digby Islands to Brampton Island

July 2 – 4 2016

After a couple of very pleasant days in Pearl Bay we recommenced our push north with a series of island hops planned. We were up before 5.00am to be ready to up anchor as the pre-dawn light began to appear in the eastern sky. This area experiences very strong tidal currents and we were keen to get as close to clearing Cape Townsend as we could before the tide turned and a huge amount of water began flowing out of Shoalwater Bay creating anything up to four knots of adverse current.

The moon still in the sky in the predawn light over Pearl Bay.
We motor sailed north out of Pearl Bay and once clear of the nearby islands found the wind again blowing from the south east right behind us at 15-20 knots accompanied by a reasonable sized swell. With the favourable current generated by the last three hours of incoming tide, our GPS was showing speeds consistently up in the high eight and low nine knot region allowing us to cover a lot of ground very quickly.

Early morning starts have been the norm on our way north.
The cliffs guarding the mouth of Island Head Creek
Our original planned destination was Hexham Island but the anchorage is well known to be uncomfortable in a well established south easterly swell. Considering the size of the swells we were experiencing we decided we would be better off going to Hunter Island in the Dukes group instead. As we passed Island Head Creek we reworked our route in the chart plotter and changed course more to the west. It’s great to have a Plan B.

The first part of our trip was quick thanks to some serious assistance from the tidal current.
Unfortunately our current boost disappeared as we approached the Cape. It seemed to take forever to round its rocky cliffs. Once we did we were then caught up with the outgoing current which was running diagonally against us from port to starboard. Although it slowed our speed considerably, it wasn’t all bad as it also pushed us north so we were then able point the boat almost due west improving our wind angle considerably while our GPS track continued on its north westerly trajectory towards Hunter Island.

It was great to finally leave Cape Townsend in our wake.
Not every meal on Our Dreamtime is Master Chef. Meat pie lunch underway this time.
Progress grew painfully slower and slower and by the time we reached the Broad Sound Channel  we were down below three knots at times. The good news was we landed a really nice 80cm spotty mackerel. The bad news was that as it jumped around on the deck it managed do dislodge the lure from its mouth and deposit it Karen’s leg. The trace was wrapped around the fish and as it thrashed it pulled the hook out of Karen before we could stop it leaving her with a very nasty gash. She took great delight in cutting its throat and gutting it before leaving the rest to Rob while she patched herself up.

Nurse Karen performing first aid on patient Karen
A photo of the assailant, the mackerel not Rob.

Although the wind was easing the swell was not. We hadn’t been to Hunter Island before and despite Alan Lucas’s pilot guide, Cruising the Coral Coast, saying ‘The best anchorage during developed southeast winds is under the lee of Hunter Island,’ looking at the charts we became a bit sceptical about how much of the current sizable swell would roll around the point into the anchorage.

We then elected to change course to an anchorage on the northern side of Marble Island shown in our other cruising guide for this area, Noel Patrick’s Curtis Coast. It’s great to have a Plan C.

Approaching Marble Island in the Dukes group.
We made our way carefully around some shoals to the east of the island and were very relieved when we entered relatively calm waters in the lee of Marble Island. As we approached the anchorage a number of masts appeared over the rocky headland so we were then a bit concerned about how much room would be in the small bay.
We entered to find three catamarans and a single mono laying at anchor with plenty of space left for us. Even better, they were cruisers we’d met along the way. An invite to join everyone else for sundowners a little later was received almost as our anchor dug into the secure bottom.

We found plenty of room for us at Marble Island's anchorage.
Pearl Bay to Marble Island – 45.1 Nautical Miles – 7 Hours 50 Minutes
Average Speed 5.75 Knotd Max Speed 9.8 Knots
The remote Duke Island Group is private property with cattle sheep and deer grazing with a farm stay tourist operation. The owners do not permit public access above the high water mark.

The anchorage lays in an attractive bay on Marble Island's northern side.
A quite small swell was entering the bay but as the boats were being held head to the SE wind it swept through beam on causing a bit of a roll so Rob rigged our well proven long snubber  bridle arrangement to bring Our Dreamtime bow on to the swell making life much more comfortable. For details see our blog How to avoid sleepless nights rolling at anchor.
The sun setting behind Our Dreamtime at Marble Island

We enjoyed a very social couple of hours with everyone courtesy of Greg and Sue on board their catamaran Sunshine. When they all told us of moving here from the anchorage at Hunter Island after an extremely rough time the night before we were very glad we had also discarded Plan B.
Karen's ultimate revenge on the recalcitrant mackerel tasted fantastic.

Yet another sunrise underway
Yes we were up very early again next morning and underway to Digby Island. Once we cleared the shelter of Marble Island we found the 15-20 SE wind and our planned course in perfect alignment so we poled the genoa out one side, eased the mainsail out the other and ran dead downwind wing on wing for the next five hours until our final approach to Digby Island.

Getting the pole ready to sail wing on wing dead downwind.
It was still blowing fairly hard so we were careful passing between  Noel and Digby Islands before looping back into the anchorage. There were already a number of boats in the bay but we were able to find a spot reasonably close into the island at the western end of the bay. There was an annoying swell sweeping into anchorage over the reef between Digby and Keelan Islands generating an uncomfortable roll.  We’ve anchored at Digby before and know that the tidal run here is considerable. Unfortunately our long snubber-bridle tactic won’t work if the current changes 180 degrees with the tide and sweeps you the other way so we just had to grin and bear it.

Marble Island to Digby Island 33.9 Nautical Miles – 5 Hours 48 Minutes 
Average Speed 5.8 Knots Max Speed 9.9 Knots
We were in the process of putting on sail covers, tidying up the lines etc after our passage when we noticed a yacht approaching from the south east that appeared to be headed between Digby and Keelan. There is no entry to the anchorage between the islands due to a reef that dries a low tides stretching between the two. At this point it was only two hours before the coming low so what water was over the reef was a mass of breaking waves. The charts clearly show the reef and both pilot guides for the area are very clear that there is no passage.

We were shocked to see this yacht entering the anchorage over the reef between Digby & Keelan Islands

The boat appeared on our AIS and we soon realised he was actually planning on coming through there. Rob jumped on the radio and called the boat by name warning him that there was a reef between him and the anchorage. We received no reply. We don’t know whether his radio was off, he didn’t hear us or chose to ignore us but he continued on.

By now every person in the anchorage was on deck staring eastward at what appeared to be impending doom.  One of the cruisers had his dinghy in the water and was prepared  to mount a rescue when they ran aground.  Unbelievably the yacht continued on through the breaking waves. When it was almost into the anchorage it appeared to suddenly stop and heeled a long way over exposing much of its hull. We can’t be certain it was aground bit it did seem pinned in position until another wave swept through and carried it over into the calmer and deeper waters.

The boat seemed to come to a stop here and heeled badly before being washed into the deeper water by a larger wave.

Lucky escape.
The near new Jeanneau then came in and took four attempts to anchor before finally hooking up. We watched in disbelief as the couple on board then calmly settled back in the cockpit as if nothing the lightest bit unusual had occurred. We took careful note of the boat’s name and will ensure it’s nowhere near us in any future anchorage.

The reef clearly visible at low tide with much of it out of the water.
Digby Island sunset
The low tide came and went and we swung around to the incoming current.  The boat continued to bob up and down and roll with the swell. The sun set and we were about to go to bed when the anchor roller began making all sorts of loud, nasty noises. Going forward to investigate we discovered the anchor chain vertical and extremely tight.  The chain was clearly snagged on a rock directly under the boat and as the tide rose had run out of length.  We still had nearly two meters of rise left in the tide and the anchor snubber was already trying to rip the cleat out of the deck.  It was so tight that it was impossible to uncleat so Rob cut it free then lowered another few meters of chain to release the pressure.

We then went below and zoomed the chart plotter in to the max to watch for any movement but the boat was absolutely stationary despite having over 40 meters of chain out. After about twenty minutes we were discussing mounting an overnight anchor watch between us and who would do what hours when Rob noticed we had begun moving on the plotter. Fortunately the extra chain we’d dropped allowed us to swing enough to unwrap and we were now free. We quickly winched in the extra we’d put out plus a few meters more to ensure we couldn't swing back far enough to get caught again.

Unfortunately in these stronger conditions Digby Island was not the pleasant anchorage we’d experienced on our last visit (A little too Up Close and Personal with Digby Island). We had a very uncomfortable night with little sleep and were almost relieved when we got out of bed before five, made a pot of coffee, upped anchor, followed our track out through the western entrance and set sail for St Bees Island in the dark. We’d anchored there last year but weren’t happy how close to the coral bombies the reversing currents put us. This time we planned on picking up one of the moorings in the channel between St Bees and Keswick for the night.

We were obviously not the only ones who had a rough night as two boats had left before us and a procession of navigation lights was following us. The dawn was spectacular and worked through a number of very colourful phases.

The evolution of a sunrise at sea.

Sails on the horizon
Once again the wind was from the South East in the 15-20 knot range with a fair swell still running giving us another deep downwind run. We were able to maintain good enough speed right through the morning that we were looking at an early afternoon arrival at St Bees. We saw on our AIS that our new friends on Sunshine and Bella were already approaching the anchorage. As there are only five moorings we began to wonder if there would be any available when we got there.

The Beneteau 49 Biddy Hu II sailed past nicely downwind with headsail only
Karen pointed out that with the early start and the speed we’d made we could reach Brampton Island well before sunset. In a flash we were working on Plan B again and changed course to go straight on to one of our favourite anchorages.  We were there shortly after three in the afternoon very pleased with our near sixty mile day’s sail.

Digby Island to Brampton Island 58.6 Nautical Miles – 9 Hours 50 Minutes
Average Speed 6.1 Knots –  Max Speed 8.4 Knots


We stayed another two pleasant days at Brampton relaxing and savouring the nice calm nights and sleep they provided. We spent some time in on the beach at the mothballed resort and had a great chat with Steve the caretaker.  We wrote about the spooky state of the resort in the blog about our first visit. Brampton Island - An eerie ghost town in paradise.

Time to relax for a couple of days at one of our favourite anchorages

A couple of visitors on the bow
Beautiful Brampton Island

This cat was sitting nicely on the sand an hour later

Karen had the sketch pad out again capturing more of the island's beauty
No shortage of fish around Our Dreamtime at Brampton Island
Brampton is a very beautiful island with fantastic sand beaches, clear clean water, abundant fish and great walking trails through the national park. We love it.

Good night from Brampton Island

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