Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hitchincock Channel

We departed Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island about 0730 headed about 35 miles north to Hazard Bay on Orpheus Island. Winds were about 20 knots from SW and were predicted to clock around to SE during the morning, so anchoring for the night on the west side of an island seemed like a good idea. However, the wind gods must not have talked with the Australian meteorologist because this didn't happen. We are finding that weather forecasts here in Australia are not always reliable regarding wind speeds and wind directions.

A few miles out of the bay we had another fish on the line. This time it was a small Spanish mackerel. No doubt about it. This one was perfect match to our fish identification card and was definitely a Spanish mackerel, which further convinces us that the last fish was a Walu mackerel. Bill brought it in and we stunned it with alcohol in the mouth and gills, but then Bill decided that it was too small to bother with. It was less than 5 pounds and would only feed the three of us for one meal. So we tossed it back into the sea for some future fisherman.

Winds stayed relatively high from the SW almost until noon and then dropped to almost nothing from the south directly behind us. Time to switch on the engine as we were making only 4 knots even with poled jib. We sailed past Palm Isles largest island. This is an aboriginal island and is off-limits. The guide book states that one can stop here but must have permission before going ashore. However, locals had told us that an aboriginal man had been killed by a white park officer and emotions are quite tense so we should avoid this island entirely even if it did have the best anchorage. We continued a few miles farther to Orpheus Island. Hazard Bay looked okay with the extremely light winds from the south but offered no protection from the south if the winds should increase overnight, so we continued up the island. According to the sailing guide book Little Pioneer Bay offers the best protection and is the most pleasant anchorage on Orpheus Island. We dropped the anchor twice in Little Pioneer Bay but each time find a rock bottom which would not hold the anchor properly. Funny; the guide book doesn't even mention the fact that the bottom is just large rocks and offers extremely poor holding. This bay was not for us. There were a couple of moorings but these were far too close to the fringing reef and we had no idea who owns the moorings, so we pressed on. It was only 2 p.m. so there was plenty of time to reach another island where we hoped to find a better anchorage. We headed towards Zoe Bay on the eastern side of Hitchincock Island. This wasn't far and we could easily reach there well before dark. Friends had told us they really liked Zoe Bay and the winds were suitable today for us to check it out.

Bill dropped the fishing line back into the water as soon as we left Little Pioneer Bay. Earlier I had listened to the VMR (Volunteer Marine Rescue) broadcast on the VHF radio and remembered that there was a 2 1/2 meter high tide at 5 p.m. today at Lucinda Point. The southern entry to the Hitchincock Channel is at Lucinda Point and it is only accessible during high tide. Depths of the approach to the channel are as shallow as 0.4 meters. We draw 2.1 meters. So we could just make it in on a 2.5 meter tide. We could reach the channel approach on a rising high tide and start making our way in. As the tide rose as we made our way inward it should be maximum just as we would be at the shallowest point. We decided to go for it. Bill went below to sit at the nav station and plot the course. Seconds later we got a solid hit on the fishing line. He came running up and I put the engine into neutral to reduce the drag. This one was a fighter! Bill said it felt like a very large fish. The rod was bending in a tight arc as he fought to reel this fighter up to the boat. He had already let out so much line to let it run that there he was concerned about losing all the line! Bill reeled and fought it for at least 5 minutes. Then the fish managed to get off the hook. We have never had this problem before but has happened half-dozen times since we arrived in Australia. This turned out to be our last bite of the day. Now we were wishing we had kept that small Spanish mackerel this morning.

We arrived at Lucinda Point at 4 o'clock and lined up on the lead lights for the approach. Bill stood on the bow to watch the depths; I was at the helm trying to keep the lead lights in perfect alignment and watch the chart on the monitor; and Zachary was in charge of watching the depth indicator. I told him to tell me when it dropped to 2 meters and then keep me posted of depths as it dropped by tenths from there. This was a nerve-wracking entrance for all 3 of us! Lowest depth we encountered was 1 meter under the keel. This happened twice, and was in the 1.2 to 1.4 meter depth several times. Each time Zach got excited as the depth increased up to over 2 meters again. We really don't like being in water this shallow!

It was shortly after 5 p.m. when we anchored near Haycock Island well inside the Hitchincock Channel. Zachary has gotten pretty good about handling these 55 to 60 mile days. The guide book states that this is the most picturesque anchorage in all of Queensland. Hitchincock Island is a very large island and this channel between the mainland is very narrow. It is basically a salt water river. Mangroves and small creeks feed off both into the mainland and into the island. The island is mountainous, as is the mainland. So this is an unusual place. This is the first mangrove area that we have visited that is not infested with noseeums. We have been anchored here at Haycock Island for the past 2 nights and have seen only 1 mosquito and no noseeums. It is cold at night so we have closed up the boat well before dark each day, so that has helped avoid insects because swarming times are normally at dawn and sunset. We don't do rivers because our boat has Micron 66 bottom paint and that paint cannot be put into fresh water, but this is just like a saltwater river. So it is our first "river" experience on a boat. The tides are substantial and create 1-3 knot currents through this channel several times daily. This has not affected us here at anchor other than to swing the boat. The water is totally flat and calm and the tidal streams are not noticeable in our big boat. A popular sailing publication in Australia is The Coastal Passage. In this month's edition there was an article about Haycock Island and the Big Daddy saltwater croc that lived in the mangroves on the western side. Shown here is the photo that accompanied that article. Note that this croc was resident in 2003. We sort of think that he probably has moved away since then. We certainly did not see any crocs during our stay at Haycock Island.

This place is popular with fishermen but is so large that we rarely see more than a couple of small fishing boats at a time. Zachary had lost all his small fishing lures with unsuccessful bites while fishing with Jamie at Horseshoe Bay, but he wanted to fish here after he saw all the local fishermen out. So Bill made a small fishing lure for Zach out of the wrapper from a granola bar. They were out fishing for less than an hour before Zach managed to lose this lure also. The previous lure were lost when fish bit and the line snapped when he was reeling them in. This lure was lost when the hook caught on rocks. This time he also lost all his line. So there will be no more fishing with that small rod. Bill has promised that they will try fishing from the dinghy again today, but this time Zachary will use one of our regular rod and reels. Don't know how he will be able to handle the larger and heavier rod with his broken arm. Maybe I will be forced to go in the dinghy with them on the next fishing expedition.

There are several anchorages within the Hitchincock Channel as well as a couple of places on the northern side of the island. I am perfectly happy to stay right here rather than deal with muddy chain and anchor more than once (and you know it must be a muddy bottom in this area with all the mangroves and mountains). But we might check out another anchorage if Bill gets stir-crazy. There is a marina near the northern channel entrance that is supposed to be very nice. It is plagued with silting and we do not know if the entrance is deep enough for us to gain entrance. No real reason for us to go into a marina anyway. We have sufficient provisions to last until we reach Cairns and Sailmail handles email so we can live without internet. We are about 100 miles from Cairns now and don't want to arrive there until end of July, so there is plenty of time to chill out here in this river.

I just finished reading "Flyboys" by James Bradley, author of "Flags of our Fathers." This is an historically accurate book that should be required reading for everyone. Bradley takes an impartial viewpoint of this war and revealed both the good and the bad of both Japan and America. Many things we were taught in high school about the Pacific war in WWII are revealed to be wrong, some of which are disinformation forced upon the public by our own government (re: Hirohito). This is a disturbing book about some very unpleasant true events; not a pleasant read; but one that should be read by everyone, especially those who criticize America's use of the atomic bombs. Those 2 bombs killed fewer people than the just first 2 1/2 hours of fire bombing of Tokyo during that war. If we had continued the fire bombing as planned then many more Japanese would have died. The atomic bombs had no effect on the surrender by Japan; Japan surrendered because of the fire bombing. Another surprising fact was that during Teddy Roosevelt's term as president during the early 1900's, the official USA policy during the war in the Phillipine Islands was to kil every man, woman and child over the age of 10 years. And we pretty much did exactly that. And people complain about some things the US government does today!

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