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Right: sunset at Pancake Creek

18—28 SEPTEMBER. The weather patterns are starting to change. A strong La Nina event is developing in the Pacific Ocean, which means lots of storms and above average rainfall for most of Australia. In effect, the wet season has begun early. Long periods of rain, cloudy skies and high humidity will be the norm – not the greatest of conditions for cruising.


Forecast 20-30 knot winds have finally prompted us to depart Lady Musgrave Island. Even if nothing else works out on this cruise, our time at the reef has made it all worthwhile.


We were headed for Pancake Creek, one of our favourite mainland anchorages. We waited there in 2006 for a weather window to get out to Lady Musgrave Island, but gave up after three weeks during which the wind did not drop below 20 knots.

Sailing back to the coast from offshore was a lot easier. Five knots of wind early on built to 12-15 knots on the beam. Masala kicked up her heels and said “Thanks, let me go!” so we did. First at 6 – 7 knots then consistently in the 7s. Then hitting 8s, and maxed out at 8.3kt.


This was one of the best sails we’ve had, romping off the 40 nautical miles easy as you please.

Masala was in need of a little TLC so next day we set off for Gladstone Marina, 32nm away. A 40’ yacht making the same passage left some time before us, under motor. We were surprised to see them coming into view ahead as Masala revelled in the variable breeze, achieving 4.5 to 7kts under sail.


As we approached, the other yacht turned off their engine and put up their mainsail. We went stonking past. So they put up their genoa – the race was on. We continued to pull away, but more slowly. Then two sets of Humpback Whales appeared only 50m off, coming straight for us. Their synchronised leaps were punctuated by loud booms like shotguns going off, as they crashed back into the water. We changed course and sailed away from them at 8kts, the vivid internet images of a steel yacht crushed by just such a breaching whale still fresh in our minds.


The wind shifted from the beam to right up our rear end on entering the huge Gladstone Harbour. Now we were dodging coal ships instead of whales. To sail effectively in this wind direction it is necessary to have the mainsail out one side the boat, and the headsail out the other, held there by a long pole. The setup is commonly called a goosewing.