WE ARRIVED in Cardwell in the middle of a torrential downpour, but it was smiles all round because locals and tourists alike knew how much this rain was needed. The storm soon passed and we loaded the Princess, a 40ft houseboat operated by Hinchinbrook Rent a Yacht.
Ros and Bruce Walker run a fantastic bare boat charter business out of the Port Hinchinbrook Marina and have boats ranging from 30ft yachts to 42ft luxury cruisers (ph (07) 4066 8007 or visit hinchinbrookrentayacht.com.au for further details). This was our eighth annual blokes’ trip, and our seventh with Hinchinbrook Rent a Yacht, and we now feel like part of the family.
The tides were neap for the first time in eight trips, so there was considerable discussion about where to go. Having lived in Ingham for three years I knew that the southern end of Hinchinbrook Channel fished very well during neap tides, while I was not so confident about our normal destination of Missionary Bay. The perfect boating weather was the swinger, with two idyllic days predicted by www.buoyweather.com followed by increasing southeasterlies. I have found the seven-day wind and swell forecasts offered by buoyweather to be far more accurate than the Weather Bureau and had brought along a printout of the seven-day forecast, which yet again proved to be spot-on.
Buoyweather is a world-wide series of virtual buoys where six hourly predictions of wind speed and direction, as well as swell predictions, are provided on an easy-to-read graph. I’ve been studying them religiously out from Cairns for about a year and have found their predictions to be the best available.
By the time we dropped anchor at Goold Island we had enough doggie mackerel on board for sashimi that night. Rob Cannon and Ken Duncan headed off to Missionary Bay, on the northern end of Hinchinbrook Island, as soon as the anchor was down, to drop the crab pots while the tide was still high.
It seemed that my favourite holiday pastime of a few beers before lunch and an afternoon nap had become contagious, as I awoke to find the rest of the crew in a deep sleep, with the exception of new recruit Trevor Gordon. Even long-time party member and perpetual motion man Terry McClelland had finally succumbed. Trevor, on the other hand, was out the back with a line in the water, keen to make the most of every minute. This approach continued throughout the trip, with Trevor into everything and missing nothing. It wasn’t until the final day, when we invited Trevor for a late afternoon fishing trip, that we managed to get a "no thanks" out of him. He was even there for the final night croc spotting expedition where we ended up with a severe drenching.
By mid-afternoon everyone had surfaced and the two boats were dispatched to troll the area for pelagics, as that had proven successful in the past, and the couple of doggies on ice gave us confidence. Trevor was the first to open the account with a 3lb GT and he was tickled pink with this his first serious fish of the trip. Trevor had decided to come on the trip as he felt his passion for golf might not be enough to carry him during his fast-approaching retirement, so he was keen to give this ‘fishing caper’ a go. (I have avoided golf in the belief that having two such time-consuming sports and remaining married seem mutually exclusive.)
The afternoon was very productive with both boats finding fish. We hit the action about halfway along the southern side of Goold in about 20ft of water, while Terry and Ken Duncan found the GTs in the run-through between Goold and Garden islands.
On daylight the next morning Ken and Trevor headed for Missionary Bay to check the crab pots while the rest of the crew tried unsuccessfully to repeat the previous afternoon's action. A wander around the campsite on the northwest point of Goold really impressed other newcomer, John Wedrat, who for years has camped on Coombe and Wheeler islands, in the Family group, about 10km north. Having camped on most islands between Townsville and Cairns over the past 20 years I rate Goold as the best all-round camping island. It has a freshwater creek, which runs for most of the year, as well as tank water at the campsite, toilets and barbecues. The fishing, crabbing, diving and oyster collecting options available close at hand make it ideal.
After a quick discussion when we returned to the Princess we decided to follow Ken and Trevor to Missionary Bay and anchor the night over there, as the wind was forecast to start rising that evening. As we neared Macushla Point we watched Ken and Trevor through the binoculars checking the pots and waited for them to return to the houseboat. Unfortunately, they had been so focused on the task at hand that they didn't see us and headed straight back to Goold at full speed. Luckily my boat had a few knots on them and John and I ran them down about halfway across. They looked rather perplexed when we pulled alongside.
It had been a bit of an adventure for the dynamic duo. Ken had forgotten to check the fuel before departing and, realizing he didn't have enough petrol to return, went and conned a drum of fuel from a group of teachers from Ingham who were anchored at Macushla in R&R (a houseboat style cruiser also owned by Hinchinbrook Rent a Yacht). Later that day Terry Mac, who knew some of the R&R boys from his teaching and football days in Ingham, went over to negotiate payment for the fuel, with an offer of replacing it – or preferably paying for it, as we were a bit short on fuel. Somehow he not only organized to pay for it, but ripped them off by flipping, and winning, on double or nothing for the fuel. Mind you, in a manner of speaking he did pay, as he returned rather chirpy after reunion drinks that followed and was feeling pretty ordinary that night.
I woke at about 3.30am on day three and decided to go fishing, as it was peak time (bite time) in the Almanac at 4am. I wasn't game to wake anyone at that hour so I snuck away from the houseboat using the electric Thruster and then did a wide lap of the Princess with the outboard to see if anyone would stick their head out. With no sign of life, I headed off to my favourite fingermark spot in Number Three Creek and started working the area with a Honey Pot coloured Prawnstar Original.
It turned out to be my hottest session of the trip, with 12 hits in an hour, for one unstoppable, four fingermark (three around the 4lb mark) and a 6kg barra. The best part was not losing even a single lure! The one fish that buried me hooked the lure on the bottom to pull free, and I managed to get it back off the soft coral. After reading Dave Donald's article in the Dec issue of QFM, I think it might have been a groper. Every year I have the same problem at this rock, with unstoppable express trains taking my Prawnstars.
On daylight I bolted back to the houseboat to gather recruits but by the time we returned the bite had shut down. If it wasn't for three nice fingermark on ice for tea that night, I don't think the others would have believed me.
We have many memorable meals on our annual trips, thanks to our super chef Bruce Cordiner and his able assistant Ken Duncan, but one meal stood out this year. It started with crayfish salsa, followed by smoked mackerel, then oyster kilpatrick, whole barbecued calamari and finished off with boiled mud crabs. Talk about gastronomical overload!
With the winds right up by day four it was time for a surf at Ramsay Bay on the east side of Hinchinbrook Island. The boardwalk at the top of Number Seven Creek makes it a pleasant stroll and we had a ball with many of us reliving our surfing days and trying to body surf. They were a bit hard to catch and we put it down to the lack of water behind the waves, but it probably had more to do with the weight they were trying to push.
There was plenty of rain during our trip but it came in bursts and wasn't a problem in the houseboat, although if we’d been camping it would have been a different story. We decided on the final day to head up the top of Number Eight Creek for a swim in the freshwater pouring down off the mountains, making sure we went way up into small shallow holes well out of croc territory. We had a fantastic swim in the chilling mountain water to top off yet another memorable trip.
1) Trevor Gordon with one of the many magnificent muddies he and Ken Duncan caught.
2) The Old Lions (L to R): Terry, Rob, Trevor and Garry.
3) Terry McClelland with one of the many fingermark taken on lures.Reads: 1987