Refuge Bay at Scawfell Island
Story & Photos by Jan
SY Sea Wanderer
Through a curtain of mist that
shrouds the coast around Mackay, we sail out from a soft grey world. Mist swirls around the boat but it is
short lived once the shelter of the mainland is left behind. The turbulence hits and with the headsail
and mizzen set we surge ahead. Scawfell Island, our destination is a remote shadow on
Green water rolls over the bow. It is rough and getting rougher,
but, the thrill of being at sea again outweighs any discomfort. The protected cockpit keeps us safe from
the turmoil outside, 25-knot winds are raging off the starboard beam, and
we feel the boat heave on the swell
as we surf along
at a great pace. I feel free and
exhilarated to be on the sea again away from the noise and flurry that is
life on land. Although we always
look forward to a stretch in a good marina, we are always pleased to leave
when the time comes. The boat is
well balanced and the trusty TMQ autopilot, nicknamed FRED, (Flipping
Ripper Electronic Device) handles the uncomfortable conditions with ease.
Refuge Bay on the north side of Scawfell Island is our destination, a 28-mile trip and we are both
pleased to be able to sail rather than have to use the motor.
Nothing appeals to the senses more than the whoosh of the wind in
the sails as it pushes the yacht along rather than having to listen to a
motor that hammers away below dulling all power of thought.
Unlike me, the boat is in her element sliding gracefully across the
troubled sea. While I'm tucked up in the cockpit trying to keep my
breakfast down, and fighting the
nausea that comes after too long a time in a marina and a few too
many sundowners the night before. I
am grateful that we are not setting out on a long ocean cruise, as I am not
physically ready. It will take a
number of days at sea for the body to adjust from the stability of the
marina to a world of constant movement.
We arrive at the anchorage after nearly four hours of hard
sailing. The bay, deep blue and
peaceful, is protected from the south easterlies that reign in April. As I drop the mizzen I look up at the
high granite rocks and thick foliage that clings in colourful abandon
around the edges of this imposing bay.
I wonder if the rock face would be accessible as the view from the
top would be supreme, but the thought of scaling up is not in the least
appealing to me.
The anchor is carefully set after a number of unsuccessful attempts,
which take about 20 minutes, driving me mad with impatience at the wheel,
but with a conscientious skipper who likes to make sure the anchor is
properly set so the boat won't drag, I have to contain my frustration and
follow orders. He is immune to my crankiness anyway, taking no notice of
any suggestion that he is “taking far too long” and “why do we have to go
round the bay again?”
We are out of the constant wind but not the roaring bullets that
shoot down the rocky gullies. Some gusts must be up to 50 knots but we
settle in comfortably and the skipper is content that we are safely
Time to relax and take in the scene, the thrashing and crashing from
the trip over has taken its toll so we rest for a couple of hours in the
cockpit. I look up at the landscape with its huge granite boulders clinging
precariously to the cliff and marvel at the beauty of this imposing
island. We watch from the cockpit as
friends drop anchor close by and when we get together a little later a plan
is formed to climb to the top of the granite cliffs. I am silent with dread at the thought of
clambering up to the top, but to decline would be a cop out, so I
The trusty 3-metre tinny takes us ashore after our rest, the wheels
are lowered to pull it high up on the white sandy beach, out of range from
the incoming tide. I take a deep
breath as I look up at the granite face we are about to climb, mumble
something about wishing I'd stayed on board, and begin. No easy feat, I find that I'm sadly out
of shape as I heave myself up trying to locate crumbling footholds with
straining leg muscles and shaking feet.
The others race up way ahead of me, but I am happy to be left behind
as no one can see my slipping and sliding as I try to grasp the unforgiving
granite. Sweat rolls from my forehead
into my eyes, a branch snaps as I grab hold and I slip back down. By now the others are up on the top. I have to rest a moment after making a
tremendous effort to reach the half way mark. Pressing my body against the warm rock, I
try to scale higher, in some places reaching above my head for a hand grip,
and then slipping back down to the ledge that I'd just left. It takes all my perseverance and
concentration to make the top.
But wow! The view is worth every scratch and aching
muscle when I finally haul myself over the last ledge and sit on top of the
world to take in the vista below.
I forget for a while that I have
to get back down as I gaze out over the bay at the stunning scene and the
yachts resting at anchor way down below on an azure quilt. It is a relieved feeling of
accomplishment to be there looking down from where we have come but this
feeling is short lived as if I thought the climb up the cliff was
difficult, the scramble down via a dry creek bed to the beach was deadly.
We moved off for the downward journey after I had collected my
breath and steadied my racing pulse. The creek bed, embellished with small
boulders and what
I imagined would be waterfalls when it
rained tried its best to kill me. Slipping
and sliding down over rubble and rock, I had to grab hold of overhanging
branches to save me from falling.
With my feet pressed against the rock face, trying desperately to
maintain a grip, while in some places I just had to sit down and slid on my
bottom to the next ledge, thankful there was no gushing water.
Scratched and exhausted I
finally arrived back on the beach, where the others were already
recuperating. Plunging into the cool
water I soon recovered and felt a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and
was damn glad I still had life and limb.
The next day dawned, presenting a repeat of the day before's weather; 0645 and we are ready to dive for
dinner. Our friends pick us up in
their inflatable and we're off for a hair-raising ride hanging on for grim
death as we zoom over the wind-swept bay and around the point looking
for a good dive
spot. I found it great to
be back in the water after five long
months ashore, and although my wounds of the day before protested at
another new activity, it was only a matter of minutes before I felt
completely at ease and ready to explore the underwater world of the island.
Visibility was marginal and there were very few spearable
fish about but I didn't care I was in my element chasing fish and feeling
weightless. My skipper, an
experienced diver, armed with spear gun, stalks the reef and rocks in order
our dinner. I move
off on my own to explore rather than hunt.
I hover over a rocky community of industrious fish, pecking away at the rock that feeds and
protects them, while others dart in and out chasing intruders that dare to
invade their territory, while still others stop at a fish cleaning station
to allow a cleaner fish to remove their parasites.
I am not in the least bit interested in
spearing fish, I'd much rather observe their antics while imposing in their
territory. However, once they are on the plate or BBQ, I don't complain as
long as I don't have to kill them.
Meanwhile the skipper manages to bring in the first good size coral
trout, his sheer determination makes him a success in the water and we soon
have enough fish for both boats.
After lunch, the wind drops so we clamber into the tinny to explore
the island from the water. Around to
the windward side where giant boulders graduate to small stones covering
the beach, it is still far to rough to linger, but I can see that without
the choppy conditions it would be another attractive anchorage.
Motoring back, the engine slows and we find it is overheating; we
have to stop. The wind is increasing and I begin to worry that we will have
trouble rowing back to the boat.
However, the trusty skipper puts on his mechanics hat, tinkers a
little, swears a little more and we are mobile, I put the oars to bed
thankfully and we are under power again.
Our friends Craig and Karen roar over in their dinghy soon after we
return, they report breathlessly that turtle hatchlings
are racing down the beach; do we want to watch? We jump into their dinghy and hang on for
dear life as Craig only knows one speed flat out! We skim over the top of the waves into
shore and there they are - tiny turtles scampering over the sand and down
the beach to the water. I wonder in
amazement how they know their way to the sea from way back over the
dunes. When they hit the water, they
swim like hell to who knows where; dozens of them reach the water without
mishap, as we are standing guard protecting them from the hungry birds that
soar with agitated frustration above us.
Gently I grab a couple of babies for photographs and inspect their
perfection then softly place them on the sand to continue their rapid
pursuit to their new
and treacherous home.
Craig spots a dark shape hovering out in the water; waiting for
dinner I presume, however it is too murky to distinguish the fate of the
babies, we can't protect them in that element; the sea only allows the
strongest to survive.
After three days in this captivating
anchorage where there was much to discover and explore, we up anchor and
set our course for the next adventure.
For us sea gypsies it is time to face the gales and squalls once
again on route to Brampton Island. We say a sad farewell to our friends who must return
to their life on land in Mackay. Who
knows when we will meet again?
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