Mackay towards Townsville
Where are the trades? Of all the passages on this voyage, this is the one that I would have almost guaranteed a strong fair breeze. I have never come through the Whitsunday area,(and I have been through countless dozens of times) without a strong SE'ly blowing. So what happens on the one time that I plan for that - northerlies. After clearing Mackay Harbour on Tuesday night, we got under sail immediately, setting fore and mains's and with a land breeze effect hauling the breeze into the NW, we stood away out to the NE, full and by on a port tack. The crew have had a long day, so I just kept her under the lowers overnight to have an easy night. (Must be getting soft in my old age) Out towards the Cumberland group of islands, but we were unable to weather the two largest of them, St Bees and Scawfell, and with first light coming on, had to fall away and pass under their lee. Setting all sail at sunrise we tried to keep the speed up in the easing breeze. The Cumberlands were another naming by Cook in 1770, after Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, a younger brother of George III. On a more personal note, my very first ocean going ship, the BHP bulk carrier "Iron Cumberland" was named after these islands. She was launched in 1974 as the "World Achilles" from the Scaramanga shipyard in Piraeus, Greece and I joined her as a cadet in December 1981 some years after BHP bought her. A geared 7 hatch bulk carrier of some 35000 tonnes deadweight, she was lost off Pitcairn Island in 1987 soon after she was sold and renamed "Cumberlande" Her lifeboat remains at Pitcairn, except for a small piece that I brought back as a momento when I visited there in 1997. Enough reminiscing, back to our voyage. The breeze failed us during the forenoon and the flood tide began to set us to the south as we were becalmed. As ever, the itinerary is a factor and reluctantly we hand sail and get under power. I never expected to be writing that on this passage. In the calm conditions and with a few curious humpback whales puffing and blowing alongside, we motor to the north. Thankfully, not for long. The expected NE'ly sea breeze fills in about 1430 and we quickly get back under sail, setting everything once more as the engines are shut off. We stand NNW on a starboard tack towards the distant Whitsundsay Group. Noon saw us some 55 miles to the SE of Whitsunday Island, - no prizes for guessing who named it - "as it was discover'd on the day the Church commemorates that Festival" Later in the evening, the flood tide began to set us back inshore to the N part of the Cumberland group, we tacked in light airs and stood out again. The land breeze filling in out of the NW then meant we made some good ground to the NE, although it meant we were heading towards the reefs to the N of Hydrographers Passage - the deepwater route through the outer reef. This passage was only discovered and charted in the 1980's and the saving in passage distance to overseas ports has meant a large saving for the big bulk carriers heading out from Hay Point. This of course is a good example of the message we are telling on behalf of Australia on the Map, surveying and charting that is still going on around the Australian coast, all beginning with Duyfken in 1606 and continued by many explorers and cartographers. At 0400, with the land breeze easing away and not wanting to get tangled up in the outer reefs, we again got under power and stood back in towards the coast. By noon we were about 17 miles NE of Whitsunday Island with the breeze strengthening from the NW again. Still no sign of the needed SE trades. Hoping for assistance from the ebb tide sweeping N through the Whitsunday passage, we got under sail again and stood inshore, braced up sharp on a starboard tack. What I expected to be a quick dash up the coast is turning into a slow plod, either hard on a wind or shuddering away under power. Still 150 miles to Townsville.