Upstart Bay is a big sheltered bay south of Ayr and bordered by Cape Upstart on the east and the mainland on the west. There are few places to access the coast here as the land is low lying, marshy and criss-crossed with tidal deltas. Molongle Beach, six kilometres off the Bruce Highway is the closest accessible location to Cape Upstart National Park where we wanted to have a day paddle, so we drove out to the end of the road, and the rather depressing looking caravan park and somewhat less dismal private boat ramp (box for donations on site or join for $80/year) to launch the kayaks.
What you see at Molongle Beach is what you get. A small caravan park with too little greenery, vegetation and space, a dredged channel through tidal mud-flats and lots and lots of small tinnies (Australian for both a beer in a can and small run-about motor boats, both of which are found in abundance at Molongle Beach). The location can only be popular because the waters in the bay are so sheltered that half-cut fishermen can drive small tinnies about with impunity regardless of wind speed. There does appear to be a good stock of marine life in the bay – we saw half a dozen large turtles, a few sharks and rays and lots of fish jumping.
It is about a kilometre paddle down a dredged out creek to reach Upstart Bay and when we poked our noses out into the bay a fresh easterly wind was already blowing about 20 knots. Cape Upstart has a 700 metre peak on the northern bulbous end of the Cape, but to the south of this, the land is low lying and the wind screams over the mangroves unimpeded. We had hopes of paddling towards Cape Upstart but the fresh winds meant that most of the day would be spent paddling upwind. We decided to head for a point of land almost due east and about 7 or 8 km distant. From there, we hoped to get some protection from the wind to paddle north towards the Cape. It took almost three hours of steady pulling to reach the small tip of land protruding from a large mud-flat on the western side of the neck joining Cape Upstart to the mainland. Luckily, the waves remained small as when any slightly bigger ones came across the bow, I felt the boat pretty much stop. Mud flats dry out for almost two kilometres off shore here, and it was difficult to find anywhere to stretch our legs from our morning in the boats, but we did manage to stand upright for a few minutes on an oyster encrusted pile of rocks.
Huge sand flats in Upstart Bay
To the north, a sandy beach looked appealing for lunch and we set off in that direction. I put up my middle sized sail but found I was getting blown as much to the west as I was to the north and I had to lean right over to prevent a capsize so I stripped the top off and went with the 0.35 square metre sail which performed much better. We reached the sandy beach in about an hour and discovered that it too was a bit boggy, not muddy, but definitely pretty soft to walk on. We each had a walk about and some lunch and then realised that time was getting away and we would have to head back. The sails were useful even with a beam wind and we sailed and paddled south until we had a pretty straight shot back with a tail wind to our launch site. I got stuck in mudflats before the channel and ended up having to pull my boat along and then, when I re-entered in deeper water I dragged a couple of kilograms of black mud into the cockpit.
Doug sailing back to Molongle Beach
As usual, when the wind is behind you, there seems to be so much less of it, which we later realised is due to the fact that you are moving forward at a certain speed which reduces the wind filling the sail. In any event, we went up to our mid-sized sails and really should have gone up to our full sized sails to get the most from the wind. When I was back at the caravan looking at the map, I did wonder if we could have got where we were going much faster and with much less effort if we had headed northeast instead of east and then north. Sometimes, we do seem to be able to sail fairly close to the wind. It would be nice to paddle around the north end of Cape Upstart but the only way I can see to do that is to leave from Bowen and paddle the full length of the coast up to Townsville and that would take about a week.