Saturday, 5 November 2016

Sailing South

After reef-hopping to Orpheus Island with David Beer, it was time to head back to the Whitsundays to pick up friends for a month or so working our way slowly south.

Close Encounters

We had a couple of strange experiences ...

We've mentioned the regular fly-overs by Border Patrol. It's hard to capture a good picture of the plane, but I tried. When I saw this photo I realised perhaps they weren't interested in us at all; it seemed they were chasing a UFO!

Closer inspection was not very enlightening, but we concluded that a moth had flown in front of my iphone at the moment I snapped the shot.

But what was a moth doing on the outer reef? And what was this tiny bird that we found perched on the Genoa sheet doing out there, either?

 We identified it as a Rainbow Bee-eater and can only assume it got blown off course.

Unless it too was chasing the moth, thinking it was a bee. In which case it was merely confused. Either way ...

We saw plenty of other birds which were supposed to be out there, like terns and Noddies, which made for a pretty picture at sunset.

One even came to visit and rested awhile on our bowsprit.

Which would have been fine, had it not invited all its friends.

It was a simple choice; scrub the roof, decks, solar panels and hatches free of bird poo every morning, or find a means to scare the birds away. George tried many techniques, including an air horn, humming bird tape (it almost drove us off the boat), loud clapping, thumping, flashing lights and harsh language (which almost forced a choice between offloading George or the birds). In the end, after two sleepless nights, we just had to move somewhere the birds had more attractive places to roost.

 This was a scene from Bait Reef, the most accessible reef to the Whitsundays and victim to the inexorable march of tourism. We were silently pleased to see the landing platforms occupied by flocks of seabirds when the helicopters were away, but did wonder how the well-heeled tourists felt as said heels sank into a welcome mat of guano.

Apart from David, who had been with us since we left the Whitsundays, our first human guests were Judy and Peter, who hopped aboard at Hamilton Island.

 We spent six days revisiting some favourite parts of Whitsunday and Hook Islands, and taking refuge from the pesky sou-easters in places like Gulnare Inlet.

We also welcomed the newest member of our crew, Jack Tar, who has many skills.

 He is very helpful in the kitchen. 

Almost as helpful as Uncle!

After all the wining and dining, it was important to get some exercise.

George maintained his excellent skills at hunting and gathering, and when he couldn't go spear-fishing, he collected fresh oysters.

After Judy, Peter and David left us, we picked up Judy and Laurence Beasley, for a cruise south to Mackay.

There was the issue of Judy's badly sprained foot (an injury acquired as she worked the fore-deck), but nobody let it bother them too much (most of all Judy) and the Alchemy lounge was put to very good use until she was able to come out for some sightseeing trips in the dinghy.

We did some more snorkelling and met some captivating reef denizens, including this Blue Spotted Fantail ray,

a large Morwong in a fish-cleaning station -  

and some laid-back green turtles (much more on them in the next post).

We island-hopped on the long trek south from Hamilton Island to Yeppoon, and stopped for our first night at Brampton Island, where we met the caretaker (seeing as the resort is now defunct).

We took the dinghy to neighbouring Carlisle Island (now deserted) and forged our own bush trail to an old Melaleuca forest. It was wonderful to have to whole island to ourselves.

This tree brought to mind a hybrid between one of Tolkein's Ents and the Weirwood from Game of Thrones. Not sure what he thought of George adjusting his tie!

After a short stop in Mackay to pick up and install our transformer that had been left for repairs earlier in the year, we moved on. Our trip took us right through the city of ships anchored off the coal-loading jetty at Hay Point. A disturbing sight from your helm station, even when it isn't under way!

Then it was on to the beautiful Percy Islands.

The large tides and flat sandy beaches meant that our fold-down dinghy wheels came in very handy.

 We finally reached Great Keppell Island, where we stepped ashore for some more oysters.

 Then it was time for a quick visit back to civilization in Yeppoon.

And we bade farewell to Laurence and Judy in Rockhampton, before getting the boat ready for our next visitors, and the journey on to Bundaberg.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

George and The Giant Clam

The last few weeks have taken us from the Whitsundays  to Townsville and Orpheus Island (the furthest north we got), then back to Mackay. We spent most of the time working our way up and down the outer reef, apart from a short trip to Townsville to have an engine starter motor fixed.

We explored a number of reefs along the way, and stayed in many beautiful anchorages (yellow asterisks).  

This is Stanley Reef, where we had a sandy lagoon completely to ourselves (apart from daily swoops by the Border Patrol aeroplane).
The water was much clearer than in the Whitsundays, so the diving was a lot better.


George (aka "Predator") maintained his good form, catching coral trout virtually on demand.

Giant Clams

During our visit to Orpheus Island, we learned about the giant clam project. Tridacna Gigas (giant clams) were mass-cultured in the late 1980s in a project to help repopulate the Asian stocks. The clams survived very well, and now there are around 3000 competing for space in a small portion of the ocean bed at the James Cook University Orpheus Island Research Station. Sadly, they are so overcrowded that many have died, and swimming amongst them is an eerie experience.

Contrary to the legends of giant clams trapping unwary divers, the clams close very slowly and incompletely, and only if you disturb them in some way, so there is really no danger.
 These two much healthier looking clams were living together on a coral bommie on the outer reef, and you can see how much better the water clarity is when you get away from the coast.

I kept swimming across the coral and was thinking about that old Beatles song, Octopuses Garden.
I'd like to be, under the sea,
In an octopuses garden, in the shade.
And I came across this delightful sight; fan coral spreading over a resident clam.

I didn't see the octopus, but I am sure he was around somewhere!

Rooster Tails  

Sailing north from Gloucester Island to Stanley Reef we had an 18 knot sou-easter and put all our sails up. At our peak (helped by a following sea) we topped 11 knots, which sent a huge wake up behind us. 

We were so excited! The only problem was that when we fired up the engines again to motor into Stanley Reef, the port engine would not start. George and David diagnosed a starter motor issue, and we decided to live with it while we enjoyed the reef, then motor back to Townsville with the remaining engine and get the problem fixed. Fortunately it was just the starter motor, and two days later we were back in action. Sailing away from Townsville (and Magnetic Island) was a highlight of the trip!

Our powerful (48 nm) radar proved its worth as it picked up other ships, airplanes (the faithful Border Patrol) and squalls at sea. Here is a picture of one squall as we saw it on the horizon, and as the radar showed it at the same time.

On the whole, the weather was good once we left the Whitsundays, but we had some heavy rain, which makes a rather hypnotic pattern on the water.

 At Orpheus Island we decided not to go any further north (it was getting too hot) so we slowly worked our way back down the reef to Hamilton Island (in the Whitsundays), where we were due to meet Judy and Peter; the first visitors who were to join us for the long trip south.