15 June 2007

Owen Channel, Queensland

Anchored Owen Channel
Flinders Group, Far North Queensland

It is after sunset and we just dropped anchor in Owen Channel, between Stanley Island and Flinders Island. We left Lizard Island at 4am in a very dark anchorage creeping through the other anchored boats in 20-30 knots of wind and rain. Fun way to start a trip! We had to leave early because we wanted to make it 60 miles to out next anchorage before sunset. It was a little tricky getting the main up and reefed, and getting the staysail set in the blowing rain and the pitch black night. But we were soon sailing along at 6 knots.

There are lots of reefs to dodge in this area. The electronic charts we are using have been extremely accurate, taking all the guess work out of figuring out where we should go. We are also sailing in the shipping lanes which are quite busy. There is no way to stay out of them since there are so many reefs on the outside of the lanes. Plus, the shipping lanes here are quite narrow due to all the surrounding reefs. We have had a few 'close encounters' with several large ships, and they have always answered back on the VHF radio stating that they would change course to avoid us.

We arrived at our planned anchorage at Bathhurst Bay finding that is was very shallow and exposed. Team Sandpiper held a quick brief and decided to make for the anchorage 10 miles further on in Owen Channel, where we are presently anchored. We made it just in time to drop anchor right before sundown, among 10 other cruising sailboats.

Our current plan for tomorrow is to leave at 5am for a 60 mile sail to Morris Island.

One thing about the weather here in Far North Queensland (far, really far, nobody around us far) is the winds are very strong and never change direction. Our guide book states that the winds in this northern part of Australia sometimes will blow in the same direction all year long (from the SE). If you are trying to take a boat south, then all you can do is wait until the wind speed drops and then motor as fast as you can to the next port before the winds pick up again.

Since we left Cooktown we will not see another town until we get around the northern end of Australia. This also means that we no longer are able to listen to the weather forecasts given by the Volunteer Marine Rescue on the VHF. But we are able to listen to the weather forecasts given on SSB radio twice a day. When we are planning our trips we are not checking for wind direction but for when the winds will drop below 30 knots so we will not take a beating. It seems that every forecast that we hear is for high wind warnings with wind at 25-30 knots. As soon as we hear that the winds have dropped to 20-25 knots, we make a move the next stop.

Why did I just write all this? Because that is why we left Lizard Island with the winds blowing so strong. In any other part of the world you would just wait a few days for the winds to die down and then leave. Here we hardly ever see winds below 20 knots. Even though we sail really fast, it is a bit extreme and makes for a rough passage.

Tom and Amy

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