Friday, 16 September 2016

Exploring The Whitsundays

In the last 2 weeks, we have travelled quite a long way! We left Mackay and headed north, through the islands that make up the Whitsunday group. In the middle part, we signed up to a 5-day "Rendezvous" run by Multihull Solutions (the brokerage through which we purchased Alchemy 1)  and joined 5 other large catamarans on a journey of discovery through the region.

On Day 2 of the "regatta", we got our first photo of Alchemy 1 under full sail. Isn't she beautiful?

Our Whitsunday trip has taken us to 10 different anchorages on 7 islands, and a few mainland bays and harbours. The arrows don't show our exact route (Alchemy 1 is not an amphibious vehicle!) but they do show you how we have moved around. The map covers about 100 nautical miles from south (just above Mackay) to north (Bowen).

 Our first stop was Goldsmith Island, where we met our friends, Jeff and Anne, aboard their Lightwave 45, Skedaddle, and enjoyed a sunset meal with Alchemy 1 as our backdrop.

Before heading to Skedaddle for dinner, I decided to drop a line over the back of the boat, sporting a small, fish-like "squidgy" as we had no fresh bait. I wasn't expecting to catch anything, so was pleasantly surprised with this decent-sized coral trout! I have since been told that coral trout are a renowned fighting fish, and it is practically impossible to catch one on a four-pound line designed for whiting. Fortunately, I didn't know that at the time.

The coral trout is widely distributed through the Pacific Ocean and prized for eating, attracting high prices in restaurants. The legal length is 38 cm, which is the exact size of this fish.

The Alchemy 1 Restaurant

Coral Trout Ceviche 

Coral trout has white flesh and does not taste "fishy", so it is perfect for frying in butter, or steaming, or marinating.

Ceviche is a dish of growing popularity that originated in Mexico and throughout Latin America.


1 fresh-caught coral trout.
2 shallots.
Juice from 1 fresh lime.
and 1 fresh lemon.
Traditionally, you would add chili but we prefer it without.


Fillet the trout and slice into thin strips.
Chop the shallots into 2 mm rings.
Mix lime and lemon juice, fish and shallots together thoroughly.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Eat with plain crackers, fresh bread or tortilla chips.

 Here is a photo from another meal of ceviche prepared from freshly-speared Trevally, with David Beer and David Tyrrell, during our trip to the Swains Reef.

The Music of the Ocean

We went snorkelling at Goldsmith Island, but the visibility was quite poor; a feature of many islands and of the mainland anywhere near mangroves.

Although the diving was disappointing, this was the first time during our trip that I heard the Humpback Whales singing. The trick is to dive down and wait for all the bubbling to stop, equalise your ears, and hang below the surface, listening. The whale song (I am sure most of you have heard recordings) is a repetitive string of sounds ranging from high-pitched (like rubber squeaking), to a series of "yips" and some very deep moans.

The male whales are the singers, and (like most displays in nature) it probably provides a means of sexual selection. All whales sing the same sequence of notes (song) at a given time, but the song changes slowly within a season, and from one year to the next. Humpback whales from different parts of the world sing different songs. Beyond that, very little is known about why and even how they sing, considering they are underwater. It is likely that the whale uses its extensive sinus system (air-filled cavities within the skull) to shift air back and forth to generate the sound. Whatever the reason, or the mechanism, it is a rare experience to hang quietly in the ocean, enveloped by that haunting chorus.

The weather was cloudy for most of our time in the Whitsundays, and the water too murky to invite much swimming, but we were able to walk on the beach at Minnie Hall Bay (north Goldsmith). 

The holes in the sand are created by the many stingrays, burrowing down to find crustaceans to eat. Unfortunately, a lot of rubbish washes up on the beaches here, so one of our missions each time we come ashore is to collect a bag-full.

The Parks Service creates "drop-off" areas that (we assume) they clear regularly. Plastic rubbish poses a threat to all marine life, but especially to turtles who assume small plastic bags are jellyfish and eat them, with dire consequences. We came across this turtle lying in a tidal pool during our walk.

 George moved in for a closer look and deemed that it was just resting. We hope that was true.


The tides are a significant feature of the Mackay area; they can be up to 5 meters, and need to be taken into account when anchoring, or travelling. The currents run south when the tide is rising, and north when the tide is falling, which can mean 2 knots or more of speed lost or gained at that time. We anchored the dinghy at the tide line while walking on Minnie Hall beach, then almost had to swim back to it when we returned!

After Goldsmith Island it was on to Airlie Beach, where we joined the Multihull Solutions Whitsunday Rendezvous.

The event was well organised. We sailed (or motored) to a new anchorage each day. There were lots of competitions and fun events, many of which involved fancy dress. Victories (or defeats) resulted in someone having to wear the Captain's Cap, or the Dunce's Cap. George and I ultimately won the "most hats awarded" prize at the end of the event. We also won the "Best Joke" (I made one up because I couldn't remember any) and the trivia competition.  Prizes were mainly alcohol (our cellar is restocked!) but we also won a 2-night stay at the Airlie Beach marina, which will come in handy when we pick up visitors next month.

The "Admiral" on watch.

 George competing for the best "Figurehead" award.

For some reason, I had to wear the dunce's cap the day Alchemy 1 won it.

We stopped for a night at the famous Whitehaven beach, and watched tourists pouring in from seaplanes and motor cruisers. But fortunately they went home in the evening and the catamarans of the Whitsunday Rendezvous had this stretch of beach to ourselves.

We met many great people, amongst them the owners and crew of "Double Magic", a 43 foot Catana, who were fun company, gave us some great sailing tips and won their share of "hats" during the week.

Then it was on to Hamilton Island, for the final night of the trip.

Our farewell function was dinner and dancing at the Hamilton Island Yacht Club; a magnificent building looking over the channel and surrounded by an extraordinary array of pleasure and racing yachts.

All said, it was great fun, we had some good sailing, drank lots of nice wine (and brought some home) and I got my first taste of the Whitsundays. Now we know the places to come back to!

Love from Geraldine and George.