Welcome to Zenitude’s blog where you can follow us while we travel slow in our Lagoon catamaran. We update this blog frequently when we are cruising to let family and friends know where we are. Check the complete story of our adventures that started in 2006 when Zenitude became our home and cruising our way of life. Graciela and Oscar

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Lizard Island to Mackay – Leaving the Queensland Far North Behind

It was just after sunrise when we raised anchor. Watson Bay was already looking empty as many boats had left by now and were underway a bit ahead of us. Even with a promising weather forecast, many of us did not have a certain destination, waiting to see how the weather conditions unfolded before deciding how far south we could get. 

We couldn't have hoped for better conditions, it was a great sail day with our course south and light ESE winds. Just before sunset, we reached Hope Islands. There was still enough light to enter and spend the night there and we could hear the chat in VHF with most of the boats that left Lizard that morning stopping there.  Without hesitation, we decided to keep going and take advantage of the very mild conditions that usually do not last very long around this area. By sunset the wind had died, which was fantastic as now our course was SSE. Zenitude became a trawler with no sails happily motoring thru the night.

We made it all the way to Russel Island arriving at noon the following day.  It is a fantastic place if you can grab a mooring and the snorkel is superb. There was nobody there. The forecast confirmed we’ve done a good decision, the SE winds were starting to pick up again north of us, while very calm weather would stay with us as we kept going south.

Next morning we left with the sunrise at 5.00 AM and by 1.30 PM were reaching Dunk Island. At this point fresh supplies on board were low and having heard from other yachties that it was possible to anchor at Mission Beach and walk to a Woolies nearby,  we decided to try it.  There is also a Caltex petrol station, which was perfect to restock on diesel. Google Earth helped us find a good spot to anchor, with the petrol station and the supermarket just about two blocks from the beach.

Anchor Waypoint 17 54.1340 S 146 05.9580 E - Careful with the tides!
Mission Beach is exposed to ENE winds but it was calm at the time. Down went the dinghy loaded with empty fuel jerry cans and we landed in the beach. It is a wide flat beach with firm sand but the tides are quite big so you need to be aware of this when you anchor as well as where you leave the dinghy.

Mission Beach - Gone shopping -  Dunk Island behind
In any case we did not leave the dinghy unattended and poor Oscar did all the shopping while I enjoyed a quiet time along the beach. I spoke with some locals who told me it is quite common to see boaties do this and you can leave your dinghy and shopping unattended as there hasn’t been any problems in the area. Nevertheless, I stayed around and enjoyed the resting time. Two hours later shopping was done and the dinghy was super loaded with all the shopping and the heavy jerry cans (5 of 20 liters each).

By now we were running against time as a north easterly wind had decided to start picking up. The result was a not so friendly swell invading the beach. Looking at the loaded dinghy and the waves coming in and starting to break, raised some concern, to say the least. Somehow we managed, somehow we put the loaded dinghy in the water, turn it around, Oscar turned the engine on quickly with me holding the dinghy in position and somehow I managed to jump in at the right time. This is something to consider before you go shopping. You can get in big trouble with tides and wind and you have to be ready to leave at short notice before conditions get ugly.

Zenitude was jumping up and down at her anchor and unloading the dinghy was another big task. We finished completely soaked but the food was safe and the fuel stored on deck. The holding there is excellent but we happily raised anchor and crossed to Dunk Island were we finally could relax.  

The next day being Sunday we decided to have a rest from our travels and go for lunch on the beach at the Sunset Bar to enjoy once again their super fresh prawns dish.

Prawns and Coronas for lunch

The Sunset Bar at Dunk Island

After a splendid Sunday we raised anchor next morning before sunrise and reached Orpheus in the Palm Islands early afternoon. All the Pioneer Bay moorings were taken so we kept going down to Juno Bay where we anchored for the night. The bottom there is coral ruble and the anchor took a while to set. It was a fantastic quiet full moon night. The weather kept holding well and so far the feared trip south was going quite smoothly, a great thing if you don't mind all the motoring.

 Full moon and all quiet in Juno Bay
Next day was an excellent run as Zenitude motor sailed in light winds. Taking advantage of a favorable current in the Whitsundays we made it all the way to Shaw Island to anchor in Billbob Bay, a place we haven't been before. It is protected from the NE and the night was completely motionless, which was a good thing as the anchor here was hard to set, the guide says there is a sand bottom but the anchor noise dragging at the bottom indicated a kind of coral rubble again.

We were in luck with the time of the tides for the final leg and arrived next day at Mackay marina with the wind starting to pick up. It was a good sail again and by noon we were securely tied at the docks. Our sailing season ended in a great way and now it was time to get ready for another working season.

Zenitude will stay out of the water securely tied to the ground waiting for the end of the cyclone season in April. Plans for next year on the making.


Sunday, 25 October 2015

Lizard Island – Magic blowing in the wind

We planned for a long stay in Lizard with the intention of exploring the area around, especially the outer reef which is so close that can be reached in a few hours. We were prepared to spend the windy days in Lizard and the calm days around the reef. The problem was, there were no calm days, it blew and blew constantly, 20 to 25 knots, with the exception of one week when it blew constantly 25 to 30 knots. At the end of our stay the wind started to calm down a bit but then it was time to take that window and head south as we were not prepared for possibly another long wait for the next window.

Nevertheless the island is fantastic, there are lots of places with good snorkeling, great beaches with clear turquoise water, enough tracks for good walks with amazing views and a good social life among the many cruising boats, some of them spending 6 months a year, for years, in this magic island. 

Life in Lizard 

The gatherings at 5.00 PM in Watson Bay

The sunsets at Watson Bay
The giant clams
The outstanding beaches
The walking tracks
The lizards of Lizard

Unfortunately there has been extensive damage in the island and in the reef around by 2 cyclones that hit during the last season within 9 months of each other. We met people that had been diving in the area for years and they all tell the same sad story, a large area of the reef is gone, same as a lot of the fish, the damage to the surrounding reef will take years to recover.

Among these is the famous Cod Hole, the huge friendly potato cods are still there and they still come to check you out, but the numbers have diminished, there is no other fish and a big part of the reef in this diving site is all dead.  In the island, communications have suffered as well and it is now very limited, little internet and no phone coverage except by the facilities kindly provided by the Research Station which is located in the western side of the island.

Lizard Island Research Station

We frequently visited the Research Station and found the people there lovely and very helpful. They have a fantastic library were you can borrow books or read on site about their research. It is the only place on the island were cruisers can get phone and internet coverage. If the wind allows is a 10 minutes’ dinghy ride from Watson Bay, if the wind is blowing more than 20 knots, it is a 45 minutes’ walk each way, along a not so very friendly track.  
Established by the Australian Museum in 1973, the Lizard Island Research Station is dedicated to supporting research into all aspects of the Great Barrier Reef. Very interesting tours of the research station are available, usually on Mondays when there are enough people interested in attending.

The Research Station with a curious lizard visiting

Watson Bay 

The anchorage in Watson Bay is beautiful and very secure even in the strong trade winds. The dinghy access to the beach is quite easy but a lot of care must be taken to anchor well the dinghy at the beach as many have been lost carried away by tides and wind.  The beach is also exceptional for beaching catamarans; we’ve never seen so many catamarans beached in any one place.


Even if we didn’t feel like leaving our secure anchorage in Watson Bay, there was plenty to do and we had a great time with all our visiting friends.

Walking around, in search for the blue lagoon
The Blue Lagoon - Spectacular 

Our first guest was Joan, already a veteran crew after spending some time with us 2 years ago in Noumea. This time was no different as we enjoyed her company immensely. She had the roughest time of all as the wind was blowing 30 kn during her stay. Nevertheless we did the Research Station tour, the Blue Lagoon track and, she was brave enough to snorkel twice at the Clam Garden.

Around with Joan, the clam garden, the wind and the Blue Lagoon

The same flight that loaded Joan to take her back to civilization unloaded our next guests, Cindy and Adrian.  They arrived with a lot of fresh supplies from the market in Cairns, which was very nice as we were already running quite low. They were a very enthusiastic company to the many snorkelling and walking tours. With them Oscar was able to climb Cook’s Look , an arduous climb that I didn’t dare to try. You can see the amazing pictures from this adventure. From this lookout Captain Cook was able to chart a course through the maze of reefs that surrounds this area.

Here is a good description of the trail:

Cooks Look—2.25 km return (2.5 hrs) Grade: very difficult

From Watsons Bay beach, near the camping area a very steep, unformed track leads to the summit (359 m) at Cooks Look. This lookout offers wide-ranging views over the surrounding reefs and island group. The track surface varies from decomposed granite to sloping granite slabs, with rough-hewn steps in some places. This walk is suitable for very fit and experienced walkers only, due to the rough terrain, loose track surface, hot climate, steep slope and difficult access at the start of the track. Extreme care must be taken.

The pictures from the Cooks Look:

Amazing Watson Bay - The clam garden is the reef behind the green catamaran. Zenitude in the middle of the picture. 
The very exclusive resort in Lizard 
Beyond Watson Bay
Adrian, enjoying the view 
Just like Captain Cook, from this top you can spot the reef and the way out to open seas
Back down to sea level, Cindy and Adrian snorkel the Clam Garden reef

Last Week in Lizard

Lastly our dear Irish friends Caroline and Benny arrived to spend three days with us and then have a pampering time at the resort for another couple of days. As always, Oscar managed very well provisioning in Cairns before we left, and feeding the crew was not a problem and everybody was fantastic at rationing water.

Benny and Caroline just arrived
Benny and Caroline - Relaxing times

Benny and Oscar

Attempting the Cod Hole

The time for us to leave Lizard was approaching and we couldn’t believe we were going to go without visiting the Cod Hole. We had also Benny and Caroline on board and wanted to take them snorkelling to the outer reef, so when the wind dropped to 15 knots we decided to give it a try. 

It was unusually calm in Watson Bay and we lifted anchor wondering how it would be out there. Quite soon we found out. Head winds to 20 knots, exactly from the east, the direction we wanted to go. We were crawling and bumping, it was obvious it would take many painful hours to get there and so, in less than an hour we gave up and turned around. Now downwind, it was a smooth and fast sail. On the way back we stopped at beautiful Mermaid Cove, where there are a couple of moorings and spent a lovely and calm day snorkelling and relaxing before heading back to Watson Bay for the night.


Managing Fresh Water 

It’s worth to mention our strategy for managing fresh water. We decided to leave the smaller tank (250 litres) untouched saving water for our trip back to the continent and use only the larger tank (400 litres) while in Lizard. We replenished the tank several times with jerry cans loaded from the fresh water pump in the island. An arduous task with the 280 meters walk over sand to reach the pump, which was great on the way to the pump,  with empty jerry cans, but quite hard on the way back with the heavy load. 

We needed to manage the load with several trips back and forth the dinghy. I should say we had plenty of help, first with Adrian that did a lot of the hard pumping/walking work and other times with the people walking by and taking pity on us by carrying one of the many jerry cans. 

We did not use this water for cooking, as we had in store lots of 20 litres containers for cooking and drinking, but nevertheless we added a bit of chlorine to the water from the pump before pouring it into the tank. They say you can use the water from the pump for drinking if you boil it first. 

Obviously, the strategy, the effort and the help worked as we were never short of fresh water.

Time to Leave

Finally the forecast showed a couple of days of northerlies, as you would expect for that time of the year and we decided to take it to start heading back south. We knew it was going to be an exodus as most of the yachts at anchor were waiting for this window. Everybody that afternoon showed up at the usual 5 PM drinks on the beach with the normal excitement of those getting ready to leave and the melancholic farewells to the many friends we had made during our long stay. Among them were Mark and Shannon from Axis Mundis, friends since last year when we met at Magnetic Island keeping in touch and bumping onto each other all along the way. It was good to spend time with them again.   

Axis Mundi

Quite early the next morning we raised anchor and left Lizard Island behind, it was our most northerly destination so far in Australia. No doubt it was worth the effort to come here, but we also have no doubts this is not a place we'd like to visit again, just too much wind for comfort. On the other hand, as with most sailing plans, you never really know.


Monday, 21 September 2015

From Cairns to Lizard – Stopping along the way

Low Isles

On September 17 we finally left Cairns to continue our trip north towards places where we don’t expect to have much shopping available. We left with enough supplies to ensure we wouldn’t starve and with 650 litres of fresh water, a precious item at the moment. Our water maker (for water desalination) is not working and any additional water to replenish Zenitude’s  fresh water tanks will need to be carried in jugs. We left knowing that Lizard Island has fresh water available for that.

We decided to stop first at Low Isles, famous for tourism out of Port Douglas since it is not far from there. So it was quite crowded when we arrived in the middle of the afternoon and we couldn’t believe it when we found a mooring free and available to us. Marine Parks has installed three moorings there but with the settled weather the other boats seemed to be happily at anchor.

As soon as we were securely attached to the mooring we put the dinghy down and off we went to visit the island where the historical light house is. You can only visit the island during daylight hours to provide privacy for the islands full time residents. When we landed most of the tourist boats were loading the people from the beach and onto their boats for the trip back to Port Douglas, at that point dinghies from other cruising boats started to land on the beach. There is a little track that takes you thru the small buildings in the island which are the lighthouse, the keeper’s house now occupied by the Low Isles caretaker and the assistant keeper’s house that has been converted into a research station.

This complex of islets is unusual as it has a small coral cay (Low Island) and a larger uninhabited mangrove island (Woody Island). Both share the same large coral platform with a sheltered lagoon that provides excellent anchorage. Woody Island is home to thousands of birds and you can hear them at sunset when they get ready for the night sleep. It seems there is a lot of discussion about which tree belongs to whom.  

Mangroves and birds in Woody Island
The lighthouse 

The keeper’s house

Low Island sunset

East Hope Island

From Low Isles we headed to East Hope Island, another outstanding place. There are 2 public moorings there but there is good anchorage space as well. The entrance is a bit tricky but easy with good visibility. 

Arrival at the island was a bit stressful as the starboard engine decided to start beeping just when we were approaching so we had to stop that engine. Later we found the problem was once again an electrical problem and we didn’t lose the engine, just the alternator, resulting in no charging of batteries from that engine. Oh well, back to work on that engine again.

There is a nice beach and we soon went onshore and walked around the island which is quite small. 

Cairns Reef

With settled weather we decided to spend a day at Cairns Reef, a u shaped reef with easy access and great sandy patches to anchor comfortably.

We had great expectations for the snorkeling there but the tides were not helping on that day and visibility was not that good. So, there are no underwater pictures this time. 

Cape Flattery

Our last stop before Lizard, this anchorage is wide and very calm, a great stop for an overnight before the last leg just 18 miles to our destination.

The beach was busy with campers and 4WDs. We’ve been told it is a beautiful beach with white silica sand but we were tired and didn’t go ashore.   

After a magnificent sunset and good forecast for next day we were ready for the last leg, reaching the magic of Lizard Island.


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Cairns – A lively time and the family reunion

As we are making preparations to leave Cairns we can say without hesitation we like this town and have truly enjoyed our time here.

It hasn’t been a quiet time; aside from all the normal chores that one does when staying at a marina we have also enjoyed a trip to experience a little of the outback and then of course the wonderful time with the visit of our kids and grand kids.

Veronica and Andrew came first with Ethan and little Caitlyn. They stayed 3 days with us in Zenitude and fortunately the weather was good to go around. We left the marina on a beautiful morning and spent a day and the night at Upolu reef where we were lucky to get the only available mooring. 

It was exciting for Ethan but jumping from the boat into the vast ocean where fish came to check you out as soon as you have a foot in the water was just too much for a little kid. So snorkeling was soon out of the question. Ethan much rather jumped in the dinghy for a ride to the sandy patch exposed in the reef at low tide where he could run and splash.

Fish come asking for food at Upolu

Next day we decided to go to Green Island where kids could spend some time at the beach. The island was crowded as always with hundreds of people deposited there by many big charter boats but the beach was good and the night pretty quiet.

A dinghy ride to the beach in Green Island

On Saturday the second part of the family arrived, Gonzalo and Tania with the kids and not wanting to go insane, Zenitude was abandoned at the marina and we all headed to spend a couple of days at the wonderful Coconut resort where we all enjoyed father’s day and birthday celebrations.
Gonzalo, Tania, Alicia and Mark

In a week’s time everybody went back to their homes and we are back in Zenitude with hectic preparations to leave Cairns towards Lizard Island. As we are planning to receive several friends while in Lizard we are in a bit of frenzy shopping to make sure supplies last for as long as we want to stay there.  

It seems that after many days of strong winds and frequent showers a good window is opening and we should be ready to finally leave Cairns on Thursday.


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A trip to Queensland Outback – Driving along the Savannah Way

For a change we left the salty life behind and took a short trip to experience a little of the Australian outback. 

Undara Volcanic National Park – Touring the lava tubes

We arrived at Undara Experience installations just in time for lunch. We were nicely surprised by the beautiful surroundings and the great service offered by the staff. We had taken one of the packages including lunch, dinner, a night at a swag tent, the bush breakfast and 3 tours. It was a busy time which we immensely enjoyed. Check for the offerings at: www.undara.com.au - highly recommended. 

The restaurant 

Setting for bush breakfast

Champagne Sunset

Beautiful sunset in the bush

The restored train carriages

Having dinner at the train carriage restaurant

Lots of wild life around 

The swag tents

Touring the lava tubes

Chillagoe – Mungana Caves National Park

After Undara we wanted to get to Chillagoe and the challenge was to find out the best way of getting there. If you travel directly from Cairns there is no problems, just 15 km of dirt road on the 200 km trip, but going from Undara meant taking a 120 km dirt road out of Mount Pleasant. 

Oscar has a good driving record on dirt roads from our time exploring the Argentinian country so after checking the road condition with the locals we set onto the estimated 4 hours trip. Oscar did enjoy the experience. The drive was not too bad even though I wasn't quite happy in some narrow places, luckily being the dry season all creeks were dry. I can imagine you need a 4 WD for this road on the wet season.  There is also no phone coverage and we discovered people carry VHF radios when transiting these areas. We didn't met with anybody going in the same direction but we did met 4 or 5 vehicles going the other way. I was relieved when we finally arrived in Chillagoe. 

We got accommodation at the historic Chillagoe Postoffice building that has been converted into a charming guesthouse (www.chillagoeguesthouse.com.au/). As we were the only guests we had the house all to ourselves which was fantastic. The Pub across the street is one of the few places where to dine. Here we also took a package for all the tours which we split in 2 days to visit all 3 of the main caves. Quite interesting as each cave has its own characteristics. 

The charming guesthouse

The balancing rock

Does it move?

Beautiful cave formations

Here is the little bat

We left thinking we'd like to do more of this interesting Australian outback.