Cruising the Whitsundays

The Whitsundays group is a great cruising ground. It’s very easy to spend months here exploring the a multitude of anchorages, enjoying brisk sailing as well as walking in the national park walks taking in the panoramic views and the snorkelling.

Cyclone Debbie in 2017 did extensive damage to the reefs around the Whitsundays. Since we last sailed here nearly 20 years ago, mooring buoys and reef protection buoys have been installed in most of the popular anchorages, a great help for the slowly recovering coral and peace of mind for the many charter yachts.

While snorkelling here has been patchy we’ve found some great spots with lovely healthy coral. Other  places such as Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island is nothing like our memories of colourful coral and masses of fish when last diving here 20 yrs ago.

We were very keen to do some diving while here. It seems scuba diving is now only offered as an option on a 2 or 3 day trip on a sailing boat or by joining a group for a snorkel/dive/Whitehaven “fun experience” – not for us. 

I came across a perfect option – a “Reef Sleep”, staying in an underwater hotel room on a pontoon on Hardy’s reef. We could snorkel, dive, and stay on the reef. Once the day trippers left at 3pm, the guests (14 of us) had the pontoon and water to ourselves until 11am the next day. 

Very fancy ‘swags’ for those who slept on the deck

We had 2 dives, snorkelled, swam, had drinks and canapes on the deck at sunset and fabulous meals. The coral was wonderfully healthy and the fish prolific.

The only problem was sleeping – it was so exciting to keep waking to see the fish swimming by our window – especially the enormous grouper at 2am! 

View from the bathroom
Midnight viewing
Maggie, the grouper

We timed our visit to the reef perfectly – the weather was amazing and calm. The wind blew up and weather turned the day we left the reef- and blew strongly for the next few weeks.

Taking advantage of very strong southerlies we headed north to Cape Gloucester. The bar at Monte’s we remembered from years ago had just reopened after renovations post cyclone damage. A lovely sheltered spot for a cocktail.

We had planned to keep going north to Townsville, but looking at the very persistent strong south easterlies forecast for at least the next 10 days thought we might get ‘stuck’. We heard that there were 90 yachts anchored in Horseshoe bay, so that obviously did happen! 

We love our inflatable kayak! So easy to get ashore, especially with the tides around here.

We came back into Airlie as the Airlie Race Week was starting. Pioneer Bay just off Airlie is a great anchorage in the SE winds, as long as there isn’t an easterly swell. Access to the town is easy with safe spots to land the dinghy. Walking around the waterfront is very pleasant, either to Cannonvale and the shops or to Airlie with its markets, landscaped waterfront area, restaurants and bars. We’d remembered Airlie to be full of backpackers, but now there are far more grey nomads.

We set sail south to Long Island, to find ourself in the middle of the race fleet. Just off South Molle we spotted a couple of whales frolicking between us and the nearest race boats. Not an uncommon sight this season, we’ve seen whales a few times a week since sailing north of Fraser Island. Luckily, none too close.

We’ve ended up spending quite a bit of time anchored during extended blows at Happy Bay, on Long Island. It is another bay with a derelict resort. The bay has good protection in the SE, a sandy beach, walks. The next bay along is Palm Bay resort – a lovely spot for a cocktail.

Palm Bay – Long Island

With more windy weather predicted, we spent two lovely days at the marina in Hamilton Island.

Sea Cloud – the tiny yacht in the middle of the huge motorboats

We loved the walks, especially the views from Passage Peak

Whitsunday views

One Tree Hill – the place to go to watch the sunset and enjoy a cocktail. 

The winds dropped and we anchored at Whitehaven Beach for 3 gorgeous, calm nights – unusual for Whitehaven which can be rolly! The walks on Whitsunday Island are lovely – the views magnificent!

We even swam! A rarity this season which has been surprisingly windy and cool.

We anchored off Betty’s beach took the dinghy up Hill Inlet. The new from the top across Hill Inlet and along Whitehaven must be one of the best views anywhere.

You know you are at Whitehaven when a sea plane crosses your  bows in the anchorage, and there are 3 helicopters on the beach who’ve brought  couples across for a picnic.

More wind! Happy Bay was a good spot to sit out 25-35knots for 5 days. Lots of jobs completed, finally got to the winches!

We’d been watching swallows busily building a nest inside our boom… not good. Fortunately we removed the nest before eggs were laid. 

South Molle Island – another island with lovely walks and views.

Bauer Bay

Back to Coral Sea Marina in Airle for our last big shop before heading south. We really enjoyed our second dinner at the terrific La Tabella.

Our visit coincided with the Whitsunday Arts Festival, a weekend of music, art, plays and markets. A welcome break from the varnishing and jobs on Sea Cloud.

With no space in the marina in Airlie, Cid Harbour was a logical anchorage for the strong southerly winds predicted. Although we estimated about 100 boats were anchored in Cid, it didn’t feel crowded at all. With 48 hours of winds gusting up to 45knots, it was a good place to be.

Once the wind dropped, the walk to Whitsunday Peak from Cid Harbour was steep but rewarding with its 360 degree views of the Whitsundays.

What a lovely place for a birthday. A walk, champagne on the back deck, BBQ fish (unfortunately not caught by us!) and the most beautiful sunset.

Sailing the Queensland Coast

Southport Yacht Club was a peaceful spot to spend the next 3 weeks repairing leaking portlights, drying out the boat, making numerous repairs and enjoying a break from the rigours of the Tasman crossing. The morning beach walks a must to get our legs back in shape; while the local cafes and restaurants were much appreciated when our appetites returned.

Tim introduced us to the Broadbeach Blues Festival, which he attends annually with a group of mates. Such a relaxed atmosphere with people of different ages enjoying the great music in the pubs, restaurants and streets of Broadbeach.

We celebrated with Andrew the opening of the restaurant at the Waterlea development, near Ipswich and on which he had been working for the past few years. 

Ali and Bron came to visit and a day on the water – Ali seeing Sea Cloud for the first time.

As the weather wasn’t the best for moving north, we spent a few lovely days at O’Reillys, in Lamington National Park. The weather was perfect for hiking, birdwatching and relaxing.

We finally left Southport on an overnight passage to Fraser Island rather than via the Inland Waterway between Southport and Moreton Bay. We knew Sea Cloud’s draft (& air draft) were going to limit us in Aus. 

The crossing of the notorious Wide Bay Bar into the Great Sandy Straits was fairly tense. Even though the swell was moderate, heading towards breaking waves and very shallow water kept us focussed!

We knew moving north inside Fraser Island may not be feasible with our 2.35m draft. However, once inside we discussed the depths and upcoming tides with a very informative Volunteer Marine Radio (VMR). A very helpful volunteer explained the combination of tides, current and wind determined the 2 hour window of opportunity to cross the tricky central section of Great Sandy Straights – but that we’d have to wait nearly a week to get the right spring tide to do it in daylight (a night time attempt was out of the question).

As we needed to get to Bundaberg quickly we took the alternate, much longer and rather unpleasant route outside of Fraser Island. Our conditions were good, but the effect of the south flowing current, the ebbing tide and the shallow reef extending 30 miles to the north of the island made for a very unpleasant overnight sail.

Inside Fraser Island -Elbow point anchorage

Safely into Bundy, I had a quick flight home to visit mum. A Covid breakout had just begun in Sydney, so I only stayed overnight. Ian was terrified I’d be stuck in Sydney and he’d have to manage Sea Cloud by himself.

Scotland Island from the air

Our great sailing buddies Alex and Diana (SY Enki) arrived just in time the next day, hours before the NSW-Qld border slammed shut at the end of June. The initial plan was to sail to the outer reef. Unfortunately, the weather and sea state didn’t cooperate, so we had a wonderful few weeks of brisk sailing up the very long Queensland coastline to Airlie Beach in strong SE winds.

We had long days of terrific sailing, some rather ordinary weather, great meals and lots of laughs.

departing Port Clinton
Alex our master trimmer

With strong winds predicted, we sheltered in Roslyn Bay Marina in Yeppoon, enjoying visiting the town and meeting other yachts heading north.

The Blue Tiger butterflies – Percy Islands (en route during their annual migration to New Guinea).

Finally some good weather! 

First snorkel – Scawfell Island

Walking on Middle Percy

Being close to Mackay and the big tides, St Bees was the first place we really experienced the current and its interplay with the winds – the mix makes or breaks a comfortable night at anchor.

Visit to Mackay Marina with its enormous piles and breakwater. Best fish and chips and a very lively pub.

Walks on Lindeman Island – magnificent 3600 views of the Whitsunday Islands from the peak.

Diana – chilling at Chalkies

Kayaking around Dumbell Island (remarkably sheltered anchorage for a tiny island)

We docked at Coral Sea Marina, our periodic base for the next few months.  The plan was to have friends and family spend time with us on Sea Cloud. Covid changed the plans for us and so many others. 

After we dropped Diana and Alex at the airport for their flight home to lockdown in Sydney we drove 150km to Mackay for our second AZ vaccination. Our plan was to enjoy the Whitsunday Islands, maybe going as far north as Magnetic Island and Townsville.

Crossing the Tasman

We, (especially Ian) said we’d never do it. We’d heard so many horror stories of friends crossing the Tasman, that we decided it really wasn’t something we needed to tick off our bucket list.

We’d flew to NZ as soon as Jacinda Adern opened the trans Tasman ‘bubble’ between NZ and Aus. Our intention was to sail north to Fiji. Unfortunately the Covid outbreak there changed our plans. Options were to either spend a few weeks in New Zealand cruising before winter set in and then leaving Sea Cloud, once again, until the weather warmed up in October. The alternative was to bring Sea Cloud home to Australia to cruise the Queensland Coast for the winter. We chose the latter as Sea Cloud had already had far too long on the hard in NZ to spend another winter in the yard.

After a frantic 10 days of preparation, sea trials (in little or no wind) in the Bay of Islands and a few precious days anchored in the beautiful bBay of Islands, we said goodbye to our good friends and to the Bay of Islands Marina. Bruce Buckley, our fabulous meteorologist/weather router from Perth identified a weather window to depart 8th May. The longer we stayed in NZ, the more tricky this crossing would become.

the Professor at work – passage planning

If crossing the Tasman isn’t hard enough, Covid-related logistics further complicated our departure plans.  We found out very quickly that the ‘bubble’ was in fact, only an air bubble. Despite flying in from Aus, spending 10 days in Covid free NZ and then spending 8 or 9 days at sea, we might not be exempt from quarantine.

Unfortunately, our first 100Nm out of NZ was sailing upwind giving treacherous Cape Reinga a very wide (40Nm) berth to the East. With much green water over the deck we discovered several hatches and portlights weren’t as water tight as we’d thought! It also Sea Cloud’s crew, who after nearly 2yrs away, had no sea legs and felt pretty seedy the first 2 days out. Thank goodness for Travacalm Original, Saltines and Vegemite! 

Departing the Bay of Islands to begin a 1,300Nm passage to Aus
Not quite shipshape below trying to dry out!

With Cape Reinga was safely behind us, we headed NW towards Norfolk Island giving us good speed and a comfortable beam reach. We duct taped up the offending leaking portlights – Sea Cloud was watertight again.  

The aim was to get north to 30 degrees South as quickly as possible so as to avoid a couple of rather nasty frontal systems working their way across the Tasman towards us. Using the waypoints Bruce had given us, we managed to squeeze north of the first front. Although we had a few hours of winds to 40kts with the “pre-frontal” winds, we passed just to the north of this frontal system with its embedded thunder storms.

We had a few days of relative calm and pleasant sailing.

Between us and our destination of Southport we had to first cross of string of sea mounts and just west of these mounts, the strong south setting (3kt) East Australian current. Both of these are fine in calm weather, but we knew another low would hit us bringing strong southerlies against the current on day 7. Although we knew the southerly would hit us, we really needed to skirt south of the sea mounts, try and get across the (50Nm wide) East Australian Current before the southerly hit and then ride it northwards to Southport. As predicted the system hit at 3am as we were still amidst the East Aust Current. The strong winds (max gusts 50kts) against the current predictably threw up a very confused steep sea which gave us a very uncomfortable night. With storm jib and heavily reefed main, Sea Cloud was coping well and reached 9kts at one stage with us sitting dry and (relatively) comfortable under the hard dodger while waves washed over the boat.


hove to off Byron

How good was it to see Cape Byron! Now out of the current, we hove to 40miles off Cape Byron for a rest. The big disappointment was that we had to wait off the coast for almost 20hours before we could safely cross the bar into Southport. An 8 day passage turned into 9.

The bar crossing was a breeze  (apart from dodging the surfboard riders and jet skis) and the Broadwater blissfully calm. We tied up at the friendly (and calm!!) Southport Yacht Club Marina for a very easy check into Aus. Border staff were welcoming and our request for quarantine exemption had been granted! Great news. 

Both of us experienced a serious case of jet lag – the lack of sleep, 9 days of 3hr watches and rocky seas had really disrupted our circadian rhythm. Our appetite slowly returned and we stopped rocking.

Would I do it again? NO!! However, we are loving having Sea Cloud in Aus!!

Now that the leaking portlights are fixed and everything finally dried out we are looking forward to sailing north to the Outer Reef followed by some relaxing weeks in the Whitsundays.

Patagonia – without Sea Cloud

Patagonia has always been on our bucket list. Over a dinner 12 months ago, six of us decided that February 2020 was the time to go. We’ve just returned from and wonderful (and very well timed) month in Chile and Argentina.

Santiago, was steamy and hot. Fortunately, February was rather settled politically as most Chileans were on their annual holidays. There certainly was evidence of the recent riots, with banks and many other buildings hoarded or closed and graffiti everywhere. 

Bellavista was a fun area to chill out and eat.

Our high rise apartment in Providencia had great views of the local mountains, when the air was clear enough

Valparaiso, on the coast is a colourful place, with brightly painted houses adorning the hills overlooking the harbour.

The excellent Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago was a sobering reminder of Chile’s terrible history during the Pinochet regime.

Our 3 week Adventure Life tour started with a walking tour of the historical centre of Santiago.

We ended up in the best Pisco bar in LaStarria. Pisco sours very quickly became a favourite tipple (especially for Jenny!)

LaStarria, close to the city centre is covered in graffiti showing the recent unrest. Very disturbing were the posters of the many young protesters who died.

As our tour guide said, if you want to find out what is going on in Chile, read the walls, not the newspapers.

Casablanca is a wine area about 1.5 hours from Santiago. We had a short bike ride and plenty of time for an interesting tour and wine tasting.

Our Hotel Meridiano Sur had a very pleasant garden for drinks 

Dinner at Liguria in nearby Providencia

After an extremely early morning flight, we arrived in the Atacama Desert, 1000miles north of Santiago.

San Pedro de Atacama

Afternoon walk through the Valle de la Luna

Followed by sunset overlooking the Valley of Death while enjoying local wine and cheese

There are plenty of interesting day excursions from San Pedro.

The main Salar de Atacama (salt flats) were closed but the Altiplanic lagoons were very spectacular

San Pedro town was fun for dinner although we were definitely on the older side – it’s a very popular place for backpackers.

The El Ratio Geysers were spectacular at sunrise. 

Our next excursion was to Rainbow Valley & visiting one of the many archeological sites

Our last night in the desert – a great meal at the hotel and more Pisco Sours

Hotel Casa Don Tomas – Atacama

From the desert to the lakes. We flew from Atacama to Puerto Montt and then on to Puerto Varas in Chile’s Lakes District

Puerto Varas
Trekking in Perez Rosales National Park
Rafting Petrohue River

Rafting was a lot more fun than we’d expected. We then flew to Punta Arenas for an overnight stop before our long day of driving to  Ecocamp Patagonia.

Ecocamp Patagonia, within the Torres del Paine National Park was a perfect base from which to trek the famous peaks of Chilean Patagonia.  

We stayed in the very cosy standard domes, nestled within the vegetation around the ecocamp complex.  

The nearby community domes housed the bar and restaurant. There was even a yoga dome, not that we had time to visit.

The domes has wonderful views of the Towers – our first day’s hike

As it is the best known and most accessible, this 8 hour trek to the base of the Towers is extremely popular.  February as most Chileans are on holidays is especially busy. 

Our guides, Martina and Roberto were are perfect couple to guide us – Martina being Swiss, was very organised and on time. Roberto,  a flamboyant Chilean sociologist always had a story to tell.

Unfortunately we couldn’t see all of the towers from the lunch spot.

Camp was a very welcome sight after our 24km trek.
Our second day was a much less demanding walk , but with equally spectacular views

We trekked to Grey Glacier in true Patagonian weather – howling wind, rain, sleet and then some sunshine.

Our last day at Ecocamp was spent on a property searching for wild horses.

which we eventually found.

It was a delightful day spent in a beautiful unspoiled valley. Our guide,Victor, is a vet who is passionate about the wild horses and the environment. We were privileged to have his insights into life in this special part of the world. 


While in Patagonia we had seen plenty of vicuna (small llamas)

and llamas,but what we all wanted to see was a puma. There was great excitement in the van as we  spotted one on our way back to Ecocamp.

After our last night in the lovely Ecocamp,
 we left for our day long transfer across the Chilean border to El Calafate and the glaciers of Argentina.

Our afternoon in El Calafate was spent searching for money. We had not realised how dire the financial situation is in Argentina. ATMs would only give us the equivalent of $200 USD, and each withdrawal cost $30. We needed USD cash, which could be readily exchanged. Fortunately most places did take credit cards. 

The spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier is about 1.5 hours drive from El Calafate.

Another few hours transfer took us to El Chalten, the hiking capital of Patagonian Argentina.

Our very comfortable hotel – Hosteria SenderosWe were so fortunate with the weather, apparently our few days were the best so far this season. 

We chose to do the most difficult hike – Mt FitzRoy on our first day. 

The hike was beautiful and not so demanding apart from the 1 hour of 1000m vertical in the middle the day. The views from lunch spot at the top were well worth the climb.If we thought our hike was tough, it was nothing like trekking on the glacier…

The end of a tough but wonderful day!

The hike to Laguna Torre was another full day of beautiful views.

We guessed this guy was a Swede – and were correct!

The hike was not demanding enough for Dave who needed to have a run following lunch

 After seven days of pretty demanding trekking,  both the boots and legs were feeling a little worse for wear. The old hiking boots only just made it to the end of the trip. Thank goodness for duct tape.

From El Chalten, back to El Calafate then on to civilisation in Buenos Aires.

Our AirBnB was in the fabulous, rather chic area of Palermo Soho,

amidst the trendy bars and restaurants.

Unfortunately David and Jenny headed home to Aus.

The four of us had a relaxing week enjoying this very vibrant city.

– shopping at the San Telmo markets

waiting for the shopping to end..

watching tango on the streets

wandering around the city

visiting museums

enjoying too many cocktails, and eating the best Argentinian steak.

Back in Santiago for our last night before flying home we negotiated the subway

to return to our favourite Pisco bar in LaStarria

Then back to Sydney, totally unaware that within a few weeks the borders to Australia, Argentina and Chile would be completely closed.  We were so fortunate to have experienced this time in Patagonia and to be now home safely with our families. We feel for the many wonderful locals we met during our travels.

Touring NZ

Sea Cloud is in the Bay of Islands Marina in Opua, giving us a good opportunity to explore the local region of Northland.

Russell is a very pretty town, a short ferry ride from Paihia.

Duke of Marlborough Hotel

We rented bikes from near the marina to cycle the Twin Coast cycleway, a 88km, 2 day cycle across Northland.

We were dropped off in Horeke, on the west coast.

Our first day of cycling started as fairly gentle, through mangrove swamps, then farmland and bushland.

We’d been warned about the killer hill – about 1.8km of uphill, definitely bike pushing, not riding for us.

After lunch in Okaihoe, it was mostly flat or downhill to Kaikohe where we spent the night in the beautifully restored Left Bank Hotel.

Day 2 was pretty much all a gentle downhill ride back to Opua, mainly along the old train lines. The weather was great, we only had one short rain shower as we crossed the beautiful old suspension bridge.

Kawakawa was meant to be just a lunch stop but turned into a train ride on the beautifully restored trains run by enthusiastic locals. Ian was like a kid, very excited to be allowed to ride up front with the driver.

After leaving the train, we had an easy ride into Opua, crossing the old bridge and then riding along the riverfront.

We ran into cruising friends at the Kerikeri market. Joanie and Bob are Kerikeri locals who we met in Turkey in 2011. They gave us tips for food – the mussel fritters at the market, and recommended local sites to see around Kerikeri and further afield.

Kerikeri Honey cafe

Our friends Price and Benny, well known for their style and cooking throughout the Pacific entertained us once again with a delicious dinner on their aptly named catamaran, Panache.

It may like look like all holiday, but we’ve also spent time doing never ending boat jobs. Everywhere I looked on boat, I found more beer. Ian had over-catered by about 250 cans when we left Panama. He couldn’t face the thought of running out of beer – especially when they were only 49cents each! Fortunately in a marina there are many people happy to take excess supplies.

There are lots of good walks in the area – Kerikeri waterfalls walk was lovely.

We headed south for a few days driving holiday. The coastline and farmland south of Whangarei is very beautiful.

We were excited to be going to Tokatoka B&B Farmstay to experience NZ country life. We weren’t disappointed! Our hosts, Sara and Peter went out of their way to make us feel welcome, to show us the local sights and a give us taste of farm life. They also have a great sense of humour!

The hike up Tokatoka peak was worth the spectacular view at the top.

with Peter our guide and the lovely Bella.

Having run a huge dairy farm for years, Peter and Sara now have a smaller plot with a delightful collection of animals.

newly shorn alpacas

After  a delicious dinner, we were amused watching ducks and geese caught, ready for Sara to take an assortment of her animals for display at the local Whangarei show.

For us, it was an early morning start in the milking shed. What an experience! The contented looking cows tolerated our fumbling hands well.

The Kauri museum at Matakohe was highly recommended by Joanie and Bob. And what a great museum it is! The result of a dedicated local museum is an incredible display of the kauri industry and life during those times.

The lush green pastures around here are such a contrast to the horrible fire situation at home. The fires even made the front page of the local paper.

The Holiday Park outside the Trounson Kauri forest offered Kiwi night walks. Although we didn’t manage to spot a kiwi, we did hear them and the walk through the forest was fabulous.The park a very pretty place to stay.

The Waipoua Forest is the home of the largest Kauri trees in NZ.

Unfortunately dieback threatens these spectacular ancient trees. We were very privileged to be able to walk through the park, as I suspect this might not be the case in the future.

Te Matua Ngahere
Tane Mahuta. These 2 trees are reputed to be over 2000 years old.

On to Hokianga Harbour.

The entrance to the harbour on the usually wild and woolly NZ west coast looked treacherous, even on this rather calm day.

NZ Christmas bush is blooming everywhere.

What a great end to a few days away – a very enjoyable dinner with other cruisers at Joanie and Bob’s beautiful place in Kerikeri.

Cruising NZ

Sea Cloud was launched at Marsden Cove, ready to sail north to Opua. We just needed a weather window. It was great to be back sailing on Sea Cloud, one year after arriving in NZ.

A pod of dolphins welcomed us to beautiful Whangamumu. They spent each afternoon frolicking around the yachts in the bay. Shame the water was too cold to swim with these playful friendly creatures.

Whangamumu is a beautiful, peaceful bay, with great, almost all round shelter.

Ashore is an old whaling station and spectacular walks.

Reluctantly leaving Whangamumu, we had a very pleasant sail around Cape Brett to reach the Bay of Islands to take shelter before the next strong wind warning. Strong winds seem to be very frequent in this part of the world right now!

We managed to drop anchor off Bay of Islands Marina just before it started to pour.

Fortunately the weather changes very quickly in this part of the world.

Cruising on Unmyama

Sea Cloud is tucked away under her covers in Marsden Cove Marina, Whangarei, NZ. We should’ve been joining the other yachts about now to sail north to Tonga, Fiji and beyond, but as my aging parents were in need of a bit of assistance, we’ve stayed put in Sydney for the season.

We’d met Dick and Monique (Dutch catamaran SY Umnyama) in Curacao at the end of  2017. Our paths crossed many times as we sailed our way across the Pacific. They spent the summer/cyclone season in the bay in front of our house in Sydney. Now they are headed north for Indonesia then to South Africa, so we jumped at the invitation to join them sailing between Airlie Beach and Cairns in Northern Queensland.

Proserpine Airport’s rather amusing way to occupy passengers waiting for their bags.

It was good to be back on a boat again, and to enjoy the extra space of a catamaran.

Our first stop was Gloucester Passage, a beautiful calm anchorage with a spectacular sunset.

There are long stretches between anchorages along this coastline, hence our very early departure for Upstart Bay, just north of Ayr.

We are now in crocodile (and stinger) territory.

Magnetic Island’s Horseshoe Bay anchorage was rather busy. The grey sky cleared in time for the Fort Walk and its wonderful views.

Magnetic island is one of the 2 places we’ve seen koalas in the wild. A mother and her very active baby were just along the pathway.

We were keen to stop at Orpheus Island. Although the pilot book mentioned good walks, they weren’t easy to find. Jim, who worked at the James Cook University Research Centre was very helpful, filling us in on the history of Orpheus, and pointing us in the direction of the giant clams (the bay just off the research station) and telling us about the main walks on the island.

Pioneer Bay – walk starts behind the research station and crosses to the other side of the island.   Apparently this is a 2 hour reasonably demanding walk requiring sturdy footwear.

Little Pioneer Bay – walk starts at the right of the picnic tables behind the National Park sign. The walk is quite well marked by pink plastic ribbons and although overgrown was easy to follow, taking about 1.5 hours from the beach to the top of the island. The path passes the ruins of a stone house and has 360degree views from the top.

South towards Fantome Island
Its a long sail to New Zealand
Umnyama, once again, the only boat in the bay.

Little Orpheus is less than 10nm from the start of the Hinchinbrook Channel. The 5.7km long jetty at Lucinda is visible from quite a distance.

Negotiating Lucinda Bar

Clouds cleared again, and with little wind we could enjoy the spectacular landscape of Hinchinbrook.

We anchored at peaceful Scrubby Point at the northern end of the Channel and braved a walk ashore

Cardwell, the main town on the Hinchinbrook Channel was a quirky, friendly place with good provisions. There is no longer evidence of the devastation Cyclone Yasi caused to the town in 2011.

Cardwell’s fish shop

The resort at Dunk Island, our next anchorage is still in ruins after Cyclone Yasi. The big bonus here for us cruisers were the hot showers in the camping area. Quite a luxury on a cool and cloudy evening.

With strong winds predicted, we’d hoped to have a decent sail to Fitzroy Island, our next anchorage 50nm north. Unfortunately the wind came in after we’d arrived.

Manta ray spotting

Luckily we managed to hike to the summit of the island before the seas in the anchorage became too uncomfortable.

With cloudy skies, strong winds and rain predicted for the next few days, we decided the marina in Cairns was the place to be. Umnyama will spend the next month at Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron before continuing north to Indonesia as part of the Sail Indonesia Rally.

After a day of sightseeing at Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge

a fabulous Thai meal by the waterfront in Cairns

we headed back to Sydney (and better weather), Monique to Holland and Dick stayed in Cairns to prepare for the next journey north. Although Queensland’s weather didn’t live up to their advertising slogan of ‘beautiful one day, perfect the next’ we had a great 10 days on Umnyama!

The BFH (Big Fat High)

IMG_4465You’ve probably never heard of a big fat high (BFH). Neither had we – but this somewhat unusual weather pattern was to create near ideal conditions for us during the potentially tough passage south between Tonga and New Zealand. While the low latitude circumnavigation (trade wind) route has been nick named the “coconut milk run” conditions west of French Poly can be affected to a significant degree by systems developing to the south. Indeed between Bora Bora and Tonga, we had already encountered enhanced trades due to the “squeeze effect” as these systems abut the trade wind belt accelerating winds and building southerly swells. They say if “the (high) pressure is over 30, the weather gets dirty”. Many seasoned circumnavigators frequently report their toughest conditions in the stretch heading south to New Zealand from Tonga or Fiji. So, it was with some apprehension that we and many other sailors fill the Wifi cafes each day in Neiafu Harbour anxiously poring over computer generated weather forecasts, and wind/wave models (GRIB files), reading MetBob’s* weekly forecast and tuning in each morning to the knowledgeable David Spillane’s daily weather rundown on Gulf Harbour Radio (SSB 8.752 MHz;

*Bob McDavett ,the Kiwi weather guru and router whom we used for voyage planning.

Mango Bar, NeiafuAfter the check out formalities, we rafted up 3 deep in Neiafu to top with duty free fuel delivered to the main dock by tanker.

Refuelling, NeiafuThis harbour, also called Refuge Bay for its all round protection, turned gusty and grey in pouring rain with white caps scudding across the water while Meteo Tonga issued a strong wind and damaging swell warning – a nice little morale booster as we were committed to sail 1,200 miles south to NZ.


Last calm meal (bacon!)

As predicted by David & Patricia (Gulf Harbour Radio,) we did have “sporty” conditions the first 3 days heading south from Tonga but no major surprises nor easterly moving depressions or fronts that can frequently come in from the west.



Alex in his element

IMG_9142Fortunately, the winds averaged only 20-25 knots with 2-3m, somewhat confused, beam seas but the predicted 3.9m seas did not eventuate. Although uncomfortable, Sea Cloud performed admirably, slicing though the seas with triple reefed main, double reefed genoa doing 8+ knots much of the time. What great sailing – posting daily averages of 180Nm for the first 3 days.

After day 3 the seas and winds subsided to 18-22kts and, with a full moon, even the night shifts were a delight. With Alex and Diana (formerly SY Enki; HR48) on board, we all had plenty of sleep and quickly settled into the rhythm of the passage and daily routines as the daylight hours lengthened rapidly. We couldn’t have asked for better crew than Alex and Diana who unhesitatingly accepted when we first invited them to join us on the passages between French Poly and NZ. They have countless sea miles under their belts, most of them in SY Enki, an identical HR48, and they are unbeatable scrabble players – so they were right at home on Sea Cloud. Diana is a great cook and Alex is superb at cleaning up.


IMG_9160As we head south we are working our way through all our fresh food to leave as little as possible to surrender to NZ Customs. Those wonderful pamplemoose (grapefruit); bananas, papaya and pineapples will be sorely missed; as will the plentiful fresh fish which filled our freezer.


The water and air temperatures also plummeted. It was the first time we’d been in winter woollies, sea boots and wet weather gear on Sea Cloud for a very long time.


IMG_9157Ian hung on desperately to his tropical gear while Alex dressed appropriately for the “subtropical” conditions.


Ian kept in touch the daily informal SSB radio net with a small flock of about 5 boats within a radius of about 300 miles. He also logged into the larger SOPAC SSB net (8.137MHz) daily which connected a greater number of yachts within a radius of 1,000 miles, en route to either Australia or New Zealand. This was useful getting actual wind and sea observations ahead of us to reconcile with our GRIB files. Although we only saw one other yacht throughout the passage, there were a lot of us out there. During the following week, 200 yachts arrived in Opua many trying to get south before the official start of the cyclone season (1st Nov) and taking full advantage of the BFH.

Nightly SSB radio Net

The weather settled as predicted. We had beautiful sailing on calmer seas, a full moon and very pleasant weather. It was calm enough to do some boat jobs, work and sewing.





We were welcomed into NZ territorial waters by the Navy Orion aircraft.

IMG_4467Land Ho! The green hills of the northern cape of NZ were a very welcome sight after 7 days at sea. Even more pleasing, we’d arrived 2 days ahead of the expected incoming low pressure approaching the North Island.IMG_3118


What we’d thought was a black and white navigational aid as we approached Whangarei was in fact a training F-50 (foiling cat). The chase boats had difficulty keeping up what we estimated as a speed of about 35knots in only 12knots of breeze.


Safely berthed in Marsden Cove Marina, Whangarei it was time for a cold beer and celebratory glass of bubbly and fois gras while watching the glorious sunset and looking forward to a night of sleep in a non-moving bed.

Landfall NZ - time to celebrate!


IMG_3373Ahhhhg leave me alone!IMG_6959

So good to be in beautiful New Zealand. We took advantage of the last of the fine weather brought by the BFH to explore the Whangarei town and environs.



We couldn’t have asked for better crew than Diana and Alex.


Sea Cloud was hauled out Port Whangarei Marine Centre for some maintenance. We had just made it in time, the day after lifting we had 49knots through the yard. The BFH had moved on, making way for the usual system of lows to cross NZ.



Sea Cloud – 26.5Tons!


The Cooks miss the Cooks

by guest blogger, Diana Bagnall

Almost a month has slipped past since Sea Cloud was boarded by a couple of pale-skinned, bleary-eyed, past-their-prime individuals whose most convincing claim to a berth on the vessel as she headed westward from French Polynesia was an intimate knowledge of her dark and private spaces, and a fair to reasonable understanding of how she is likely to perform in a variety of gnarly situations.

So far, so good.


Would you sail across an ocean with these two?

The crew are still on board. Jeez, Barry.  The good-humoured captain continues to propose Dark and Stormies each evening as the sun goes down – or not, as was the case last night when Neiafu harbor was a blur of low cloud and fine drizzle. We are tied off to a mooring here, debating endlessly (as happens always in these situations) the merits or otherwise of departing for New Zealand today, tomorrow or the day after. You wouldn’t believe the algorithms these weather people can come up with now. The skipper has a rather inelegant phrase to describe what they do to your head.

This next 1200 mile passage from Tonga down to the top of New Zealand is the big one. It’s the one everyone stresses about, and it’s when a couple more hands on deck can really be useful. We’ll just say that it’ll be fine, and we’ll tell you when we’re into Whangarei, our nominated port of entry.

To backtrack though….The passage from Bora Bora through to Tonga is frequently under-estimated by cruisers. More tradewind sailing, dah de dah. Piece of cake. Actually, it proves not to be so often. Actually, it’s also 1200 miles, and that’s a long way.


Downwind sailing never loses its appeal


On passage we are all big readers


It doesn’t happen often but every so often the girls bring out their stitching

Sea Cloud broke her voyage at the 1000 mile mark in Niue, bypassing all of the Cook Islands including the curiosity of Palmerston (an atoll supporting 60 people) in order to have something more interesting to do during the enforced four-day layover. There was no proceeding past Niue because the weather ahead had turned to custard. Big seas, big winds.


Big seas are always difficult to photograph


The swell off Togo cave on the south coast of Niue – glad we weren’t out there

Niue was fun. Sea Cloud’s skipper and his fabulously cheerful wife put high store on achieving a decent fun-to-crap ratio (another of the skipper’s memorable phrases, by the way). So we got out there in a rental car for a couple of days. You really can’t go that far in Niue, which is a smallish limestone rock surrounded by crashing seas. But what you see is dramatic, and the water is so startlingly clear (the limestone again) that when you don mask, snorkel and fins, the sights under the water are astoundingly vivid. Top marks to Niue for water clarity and surely some of the world’s most bizarre limestone formations.


The mooring field off the town of Alofi on Nuie island was rollier than it looks here


It seems complicated at first, but you soon get the hang of lifting your tender ashore on Niue


Walking on Niue with Dominique (front) and Frederic of Cap a Cap, a French-flagged Garcia


The glorious colour in Limu pools, one of the clearest snorkelling spots on the planet, surely

Ian will not remember Niue for the quality of its bush roads however. They are off the chart in terms of potholes, scratchy bushes, and reliable lack of signage.

We pushed on from Niue a little ahead of time, forcing Ian and Cathy to cancel a dive. More’s the pity, but if there’s a choice between taking the wind, and taking a dive, the wind wins. Even so, we lost it about 12 hours out of Tonga. That opened the way for a bit of fishing. This (below) is the money shot, perhaps not the one Ian wanted, but it expresses the essence of the fight. The Prof vs the Sailfish. Yes, that’s right, folks. Game on. Cathy wasn’t keen on the event at all, but Ian was determined to bring the big fish into the boat. Then, and only then, did the first mate get the go ahead to cut it free.


The Prof vs the Sailfish

Sea Cloud entered the Vava’u archipelago on a perfect Sunday afternoon, when all of Tonga was either asleep or feasting on barbecued pig, and dropped anchor in Port Maurelle, a bay remembered fondly by the crew from their own cruising days in Vava’u in 2015.


Swallow’s Cave, on Kapa island, in the Vava’u archipelago, Tonga


Port Maurelle was a sight for sore eyes on entry to Tonga


Diana in one of those old Turkish tee shirts that keep on giving

With only five days out in the islands, we’ve managed to tick off Swallow’s Cave, Hunga lagoon and the splendid coral garden snorkel near anchorage 16 (the Vava’u island anchorages are so difficult to remember, and there are so many of them, that cruising yachts and fishermen refer to them by numbers).


Sunset over Port Maurelle


Moving between Hunga (#13) and Vaka’eitu (#16) anchorages

And Cathy and crew hit the market hard. We’re leaving port with a stack of pineapples on the aft deck, and the benchtop packed tight with tomatoes, green peppers, bananas, papaya and new potatoes.


To market, to market…to buy what we need

P1130227The crew have a tan now, by the way. It’s unfashionable to acquire a tan these days, but here in the islands, it works better than pale with the prevailing fashions. If summer temps have arrived by the time we reach New Zealand though, I’ll eat my salt-infused hat.


Jeez Barry,  you’d think they would have had enough of each other by now

Photos by guest photographer, Alex Nemeth


This market lady sold sweet basil and other herbs, with cruisers in mind


Staff at Mango cafe polishing trophies in anticipation of the opening of the billfish competition 


Future Tongan rugby player on the mean streets of Neiafu

Last of the Societies

After a very speedy trip back to Sydney to catch up with family and friends, we flew back into Raiatea.

IMG_8817The small Opoa hotel was a perfect place to enjoy lunch on our last day on this lovely island.


IMG_8827The weather for the next 10 days was superb, the calmest and sunniest stretch we’d had in this part of the world. The calm weather enabled us to anchor over lovely white sand, just off the Coral Garden on Tahaa.

IMG_6497IMG_6521What a beautiful spot. The days were spent snorkelling amongst the coral and many colourful fish. Some say that the best thing about Bora Bora is the view from Tahaa. We’d yet to visit Bora Bora, but they may be right.


The wind came up enough for a slow sail across to Huahine. As we threaded our way along the inside of the reef to Avea Bay we were joined by a local in his Va’a, obviously training for the big race between Huahine, Bora Bora and Raiatea which occurs in November. He had no trouble keeping up with Sea Cloud.


Avea Bay at the southern end of Huahine is such a beautiful anchorage. After months of avoiding coral heads and trying to find a spot with good holding, it was wonderful to drop the anchor in sand holding in beautiful clear water. It was a week of exploring by dinghy, enjoying happy hour and local entertainment at the Mahana Hotel


IMG_6575cycling around Huahine Iti, and driving around the larger Huahine Nui.


Huahine is known as the wild one because of its rugged lush green soaring hills. As well as being a spectacular island, it is also incredibly friendly and laid back.



IMG_6590Unfortunately the good weather ended the day before the Diana and Alex arrived to join us on our next adventures down to New Zealand. We met them at the dinghy dock in pouring rain which continued relentlessly for the whole day.

IMG_8996Provisioning complete, we sailed to Raiatea for the night, then on to Bora Bora the next morning. Luckily the rain had stopped so we could enjoy approach to the famous Bora Bora to check out of French Polynesia.





The good weather didn’t last for long, with very strong winds and lots of rain for our first few days in Bora Bora where we anchored off the very bumpy MaiKai Hotel. This used to be a haven for yachties, but the new management certainly wasn’t welcoming.  We moved to the much calmer and friendlier Bora Bora Yacht club where we met up with a number of cruisers also heading west to Tonga.

Although we haven’t seen much of Bora Bora we are keen to move along. The weather is looking pretty good, so on to Tonga, hopefully breaking up the 1200nm (8 day sail) with stops in the Cook Islands of Palmerston and or Niue if weather allows.