Airlie Beach to Mackay: an unplanned stop

With a new freezer compressor and lots of ice for sundown drinks and a number of other boat jobs ticked off we set off from Coral Sea Marina ready to join the southern migration of other cruisers.  Our intention is to still take time and stop at various islands and anchorages along the way   First stop – Cid Harbour, a mere 15 nautical miles across to Whitsunday Island.

Hook Island on the left, Hook Pass and Whitsunday Island on the right

It was an easy trip across.  After flushing the freshwater cooling system in Townsville and having replaced all the flushing solution with new coolant in Airlie Beach we decided to motor sail to get all the fresh coolant moving through the engine.  Cid Harbour is a popular anchorage in the Whitsundays and there were already a few boats of all types already at anchor.  But there is still plenty of room for us.

Cid Harbour is well sheltered from many wind directions so it was a comfortable first night out of the marina.  The weather forecast was for continuing northerly winds and this meant our next sheltered spot was to be Turtle Bay on the southern side of Whitsunday Island. Again just a short hop around the corner so there was no need for an early start.

Cid Harbour

We lifted the anchor in the middle of the morning and then just a motor around to Turtle Bay.  There are some tight passages between Whitsunday and the other close islands of Hamilton and Dent and with the southerly flowing tidal stream we made good time.  In my mind the development and resorts on Hamilton Island are something of an eyesore but I am sure that is what many people seek for their holidays and tropical island experience.  Each to their own.

Fortunately the high rises and resort can’t be seen from Turtle Bay so we were happy to head up into the top of the bay for the night.  There is a lovely beach with a freshwater spring and stream in one corner.  There were no other boats in the bay so we were looking forward to a wonderful afternoon and evening.  On approach to anchor the engine alarm started sounding!    Michelle and I both looked at each other and assumed the old oil pressure switch thing again.  With only metres to run to drop the anchor the alarm was partly ignored and engine turned off immediately after the anchor took hold on the bottom.

It is easy to imagine the amount of swearing that filled the air – lucky there were no other boats around.  Once the anchor was settled it was time to look in the engine bay.  Steam billowed from the compartment as soon as the doors were opened. All boat hatches were opened for maximum ventilation and cooling down.  When things had cleared a closer look showed engine coolant sprayed all through the front end of the engine bay.  It was an overheating alarm, not oil pressure – one small win to take away.   With more to do and track down the problem a trip ashore to swim in the spring was not going to happen.

First course of action was to let the engine cool enough to track down where and how bad the leak may be.  Then to try and resolve the problem and then plan ahead for where to go and what to do.    Things to check – did I close the coolant drain plug properly? Is the pressure cap ok? Is the overflow reservoir split? And are the hoses all ok?  The results of the searching ended up with a small split in one of the hoses – of course it is the most inaccessible one.  Access to the hose means taking off two other hoses connected to the heat exchange unit and the alternator belts. Not a job handled easily at anchor. 

Next step decisions about heading back to Airlie Beach or continue south to Mackay. With the forecast northerly winds and tidal stream on our side it is to be south to Mackay.  Any lost coolant was replaced with what spare coolant I had and freshwater (about 3 litres to make up what was lost) so we could use the engine for a few minutes in an emergency. 

The morning dawned without a hint of wind, a stark contrast to the days before.  It was time for coffee and wait for enough wind to take us off the anchor and out of the bay.   Patiently we watched as the wind gauge started reading off 2knots, 3 knots, and then building to just enough movement for us to start southwards.  Once clear of the bay’s headlands the breeze picked up enough and we started sailing our way towards Brampton Island – our next stop before Mackay.  There were enough winds to make good time in a full day of good sailing.

Leaving Turtle Bay

Heading south and closing in on Mackay there was enough signal to use a mobile phone.  Calls were made to the marina and let them know we needed a berth and also to Volunteer Marine Rescue and ask for a tow and assistance to our allocated berth.  There were other boats heading south so if necessary we may have been able to ask for their help too if needed.  A few boats were already at anchor in Western Bay – Brampton island so as soon as we had a reasonable depth to drop anchor we did so. 

At least the next morning there was just enough breeze to get us off anchor straight away.  But only just enough as we bobbed slowly southwards at just over 2 knots. The winds did strengthen and we sailed southwards keen to get into the marina and get parts and repairs underway.  As arranged I called VMR when we were 5nm away from our rendezvous but was told the rescue crew would still be another hour away.  With 15 knot winds the only way to slow down was to turn up into the wind and heave too for half an hour.

Eventually we turned south again and with just the mainsail in 15 knot winds and tidal flow we still made over 5 knots of speed as we headed towards our arranged rendezvous.    My stress levels rose as we got a call from VMR telling us that the boat they planned to use had engine trouble so they now had to go and get the second boat organised and they would be about 20 minutes later than planned.  We were to keep sailing past Mackay and they would come get us.  With lots of luck/ good management, they met us before we got too far past the harbour entrance.

‘Murphy’ must have been watching over us – as the rendezvous point approached the winds and the seas increased.  This wasn’t going to be an easy situation.  ‘Rescue 6’ arrived and try as we might, we couldn’t get our bow into the wind enough to drop the mainsail.  The tow line had to come across first and they would have to turn us up into the wind.  Michelle was at the helm and I went up to the pitching bow to grab the heaving line and pull across the towline and then fix it on one of our cleats then drop the mainsail as soon and as quickly as possible.  The whole plan of calling ahead was to minimise the distance we would be under tow.  With what ended up being 20+ knot winds and 2 metre seas that was well planned.  Their smaller boat did seem to struggle at times but they did a fantastic job getting us into the shelter of the harbour and alongside our allocated berth. 

Pictures of the ‘rescue’ from VMR’s Facebook page. I did think/ was too busy to take photos during the operation outside the harbour.

Time now to chase up hoses for the ‘old girl’ and attend to some other jobs that keep popping up.

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