25 September 2014
Bait reef, moored just inside the stepping stones, the weather is perfect with a light North Easterly wind and hardly any swell, the sun has just set, Silus is sleeping, Lyn is cooking dinner, Bruce is relaxing and typing this blog. All is right with our world.
Our time at Airlie in the marina was relaxing and fairly uneventful. Chores were done, package collected from the yacht club. We now have jack-lines and good Spinlock all-in-one harness and inflatable lifejacket, so we will be safer on the way back than we were on the way up here. Highlight of the stay was catching up with some old friends. We had drinks with a Manly skiffies mate Mugsy (Andrew Phillips) and his partner Lizzie on their beautiful Cavalier 46 “Shala” before they set off out to the islands. We will hook up with them again out and about. We bumped into Catssy (Paul Catts) from the offshore Pittwater community who has been up here for some time, currently teaching boat Master at Tafe and repairing his cyclone damaged boat. Had a lovely impromptu drinks and dinner with Cattsy, his friend Emma and Craig from Morning Star whom we had befriended at Lady Musgrave Island. Lyn whipped up some delicious pizzas and evening drinks became a full-scale dinner party.
Airlie is a nice place, but not really that different from any other coastal resort town. It’s ironic that a place with “Beach” in it’s name has probably one of the ugliest muddy beaches in Australia. To compensate they have built a man-made lagoon area, which reminds one of the Durban beach front pools. A pleasant area for people with young kids, but in the context of the nearby beauty of the islands (I don’t want to be rude but) it’s really rather tasteless and ugly. For the young back-packer it is a great place with many hostels and a vibrant night life. There are a lot of tourists and a lot to keep them entertained. Many charter boats compete for the tourist dollar. The most interesting are the old IOR maxi yachts, this place is like the maxi yacht retirement village and it is actually great that these boats have found a use where they would otherwise be long-since dead. Every day the tourists line up to go out on the various boats and returning boats have the mandatory shout of “Yes!” in the marina where they compete to prove who’s guests had the best time.
One essential mission at Airlie was sourcing some scuba tanks. We both have everything for scuba but the tanks we have on the boat are European and we can’t get them filled in Australia (nanny state). So we decided to bite the bullet and buy two used tanks from the extremely friendly local scuba shop in the marina which had come off a superyacht, so not too much use we assume. Lyn also decided to upgrade her fishing gear after some great advice from Craig. So we were fully locked and loaded for action when we set off from Airlie on Wednesday. We had spent one more day than originally planned due to us paying for 3 nights by mistake? (cest la vie).
The plan was to maybe catch up with Mugsy at Stonehaven anchorage overnight, then onwards to the reef the next morning. There were no moorings at Stonehaven so we ended up on a mooring at the nearby small Langford Island, which was a bit uncomfortable when the tide turned and the boat was being pulled opposite ways by tide and wind. Not to worry, it was to be a short night anyway, as we cast off at 3AM. We wanted to make sure of a mooring at Bait Reef by arriving at first light. Negotiating the quite narrow channels between Hayman and Hook was a bit nerve-wracking with no moon, but the Raymarine chart plotter has never been wrong yet so with it confirming my visual observations of cardinal and channel marks it was negotiated without drama. The 3 hour journey to Bait Reef was a pleasant enough motor-sail with a double-reefed main moderate wind fine on the bow and a small seaway that was not too uncomfortable (Lyn may beg to differ).
We arrived at the reef shortly after sun-rise. There were only two other boats there; a small catamaran and the large Anaconda III schooner charter dive boat. We picked up a great mooring very close to the stepping stones which was very quiet and comfortable despite the rushing incoming tide. We had a couple of hours to wait for slack (high) tide before diving which was spent getting out and checking our dive gear. This is something we really should have done at Airlie, especially as we discovered that Lyn’s fancy dive watch/computer had a flat battery and the basic computer on my rig also was not working – whoopsy daisy! Oh well, we would just have to make sure we didn’t go too deep for long and make sure we stayed shallow for the last stages of the dive.
Leaving Silus barking like a lunatic down below, we set off on our first scuba dive in a long time. The stepping stones are a really exciting scuba terrain with many walls, caves and swim-troughs and really beautiful coral. We were actually a little disappointed in the amount of fish life, which seemed not to match up with the billing we had read for the place. We did see many interesting fish but not in large schools or numbers. We saw two white tip reef sharks, from a bit of a distance and a large Maori Wrasse, also from a distance.
After surfacing back near the boat a friendly chap from Anaconda III came over in the dinghy and offered us a lift back to the boat. We enquired whether they could possibly do a tank fill for us and he took us in the boat back to Anaconda where they extremely generously filled our tanks for free. What a lovely crew, doing this for us when they really need not have and also not charging us for it. It’s such a bonus to have the tanks filled so we can dive again, especially since there are no other options for filling around us at the moment.
In the afternoon we took the standup boards for a paddle over and along the outside of the reef. It was flat calm with beautiful visibility through the glassy surface. Took the opportunity to do a bit of a reccy of some of the other dive sites here from the surface. After getting back to the boat the resident scrounger fishes were hanging out at the stern, hoping to be fed (obviously other boats feed them, can’t imagine the enemy would be happy with that). This sent Silus completely over the top, barking like a mad thing and climbing/falling down the back steps to the sugar scoop, which he has never done before. Despite our warnings that he would fall in (yes Lyn believes he understands English) he carried on and a splash soon followed. After fishing him out we hoped that he had learned his lesson but he seemed not to be too put off by the experience. From now on he is wearing his doggy life jacket whenever he is not harnessed on.
26 September 2014
A great day or a bad day?
As we sit here in Hardy Lagoon out on the reef the sun is close to setting on another eventful day on the JoliFou. To Bruce it was a great day, to Lyn a bad one. Let me explain.
After an okay night at Bait Reef which started a bit bumpy in a building North Easter but settled to a nice calm morning, we moved the boat this morning “round the corner” of Bait reef from the Stepping Stones to a mooring at the Manta Ray Wall dive site on the Southern side. When the tide went slack enough we set off around 9:30 on a beautiful dive. It started with a shallowish gorge through beautiful coral with plenty of pretty little fish, then opened up to a deep blue drop-off with many large fish. Descending the drop-off we came across a stunning chimney from about 18 meters down up to close to the surface, followed by a narrow gulley through the coral, fish everywhere! Then we swam on the surface over the coral back to the depths and followed the stunning wall back towards the boat. Spotted two largish white tip sharks and numerous other large fish. By pure luck we managed to get back to the mooring line around about the time the air was running out.
Bruce: “That was one of the best dives I’ve ever done, especially the deep drop-off wall.”
(It should be noted here that Lyn is a PADI Dive Master, Bruce has no recent dive training at all.)
Lyn: “Yes it was a great dive BUT it was spoiled for me because you were going too fast and too deep, it’s very dangerous especially when we have no computer” (Lyn was checking depth on her camera). “You need to look at me more often, I was constantly worried about you and trying to signal you to go shallower. I loved the shallow gully and swim-throughs but the wall was poorer visibility and causing you to go too deep. I think I need a new dive partner.”
We upped anchor and motored eastward to the inside of Hook Reef, where we anchored for lunch. A nice place but not very exciting. After lunch we upped anchor to head North for Line Reef or Hardy Lagoon, TBD when we got there. Hardy Lagoon has a notorious entrance called the “Waterfall”, on account of the fact that it looks like a waterfall when the tide is running out of it from the lagoon to the outside. The 100 Magic Miles guide book recommends only attempting entry a couple hours after low tide or at high tide. We got there just after high tide. The chart plotter doesn’t show the entrance and all we had to go by was the sketch map in the book, which is a bit misleading because we initially completely missed it and had to turn around when we realized that we must have done so. The reason we missed it is that no-where in the guide does it say how extremely narrow it is – it is literally about 6 meters wide (we are 4 meters wide). We were looking for something “clear and unambiguous” as per the guide?
Eventually we figured out what had to be the entrance. By this time it was a couple hours after high tide. We decided to edge towards it and check it out, Lyn on the bow calling the depth and coral heads. “Looks okay, looks good, left, LEFT, BOMMIE, REVERSE!” I slam into reverse, not thinking about the dinghy behind us on a long rope. Clunk! Beeeeeep! The rope is around the prop, the dinghy half sucked under the boat, the engine has stopped!
Bruce thinks: Oh shit, we are stuffed now, close to the reef, no engine, big tide, no wind!
Lyn thinks: Oh shit, we are stuffed now, close to the reef, no engine, big tide, no wind!
Bruce: “Let’s use the dinghy.” Lyn: “But it’s stuck under the boat!” Bruce: “Shit! Get a knife.”
Lyn grabs her dive knife and Bruce jumps in the water and cuts the dinghy rope so the dinghy pops out. Starts the dinghy, we tie a rope from JoliFou bow to dinghy bow and with Bruce reversing the dinghy and Lyn steering the JF and using bow thruster we pull away from the reef to more open water.
Lyn thinks: Now we are in big trouble. We have no engine, what are we going to do? (Lyn has never been in this situation before)
Bruce thinks: Thank god we are clear of the reef. We can clear the rope from the prop and all will be good again. (Bruce has been in this situation a few times and knows that the prop can be cleared and things will be sorted.)
Bruce dons fins and face mask and dives under the boat with the knife. Actually the knife was not required and managed to unwind the rope from the prop quite easily. Lyn starts engine, tries forward gear, all good…… phheeewwww!
Bruce decides that whilst in dinghy it would be prudent to check out the entrance (and other possibilities) before putting JoliFou close to the reef again. Buzzes around through one entrance which is long and narrow and looks too shallow at the end. Then back through the gap we had first looked at – it looks good – narrow but deep enough and short in length. However, by now the tide is starting to rip out through it quite fast – time is of the essence! Back to the boat and tell Lyn the plan.
Bruce thinks: We can do this, it is tight but short and with good speed and the right angle we will be through quickly.
Lyn thinks: I don’t want to go anywhere near that narrow gap in the reef again, this is crazy!
Lyn: “We shouldn’t do this, I’m not going on the bow to watch this!” Goes down below.
Bruce: “It’ll be fine, I checked it. Hold on, here we go!”
Breathe in, commit with speed, trust the angle, watch the sides and the push of the current closely, we are through!! Relief!
Bruce thinks: Wow, that was exciting. What an adventure!
Lyn thinks: He is a total cowboy, taking a ridiculous risk with the boat, Silus and I.
Lyn is not talking to Bruce. Bruce doesn’t understand why initially but as the adrenaline fades, is starting to realize that he really shouldn’t have done that. The adrenaline was up and it was all rather rash, okay to do this kind of risky stuff with your toys, but NOT with your boat, your home and the love of your life. So Lyn had a bad day, Bruce had a great day (becoming a lot worse because of remorse and Lyn’s anger to him).
29 September 2014
It was a beautiful night at Hardy Lagoon. Very little wind, flat water, a stunning setting crescent moon and bright stars shining unimpeded by the lights of civilization. We slept really well, both of us exhausted from the nervous stress of the afternoon’s events.
Hardy Lagoon is beautiful, but we are starting to realize that if you have seen one reef you have seen them all, at least from the surface. The true beauty of this area is the underwater world, but the visibility in the lagoon is not great for some reason. We had a paddle outside of the lagoon along the sheer reef wall (it drops from 1m to over 50m) and you could see many fishes large and small through the glassy surface. It also gave us an opportunity to scope out the waterfall again. It was becoming apparent that we really had not entered in the right state of tide, as with tide a bit higher it looked far friendlier. We would leave on slack high tide.
The Reef World pontoon is moored just outside the lagoon in the pass between Hardy and Hook reefs and we took the dinghy over to have a look and see if they would do a scuba tank fill for us. The staff were really friendly and welcoming. The tanks could not be filled as the boat with the punters was arriving soon but they invited us aboard too have a tour of the pontoon. Silus was welcome too and a hit with the crew who loved the novelty of a cute dog on the pontoon. It is a really cool setup, with huge fish (the biggest grouper we have seen) hanging out under the pontoon and underwater viewing locations.
Then it was back to the JoliFou to get ready to take on the waterfall again at high tide this time. The exit was hugely more relaxing than the entrance and I think we now will be happy to return, but only at high tide! We decided to take the scenic route down the narrow winding channel between Hardy and Hook which was extremely pretty. Then set sail for the North end of Hook Island in the building South Easterly, a pleasant broad reach with full sails and Lyn enjoying some steering practice.
All the moorings at Butterfly Bay were taken and after a failed attempt at anchoring in 16 meters depth (I think it was a rock bottom judging by the noise of the anchor dragging), we moved to a mooring in Manta Ray Bay. This is a stunningly beautiful spot though not usually recommended for overnight. With the very small swell it was fine and we had a slightly rolly night but slept well. The rock around the Northern side of Hook Island is stunningly beautiful and with a rock-climber’s eye we were drooling at the variety of possible climbing roots as we set off Southwards. Our destination was Hamilton Island marina, where we would be meeting up with Joe and Belinda with family and friends, who were borrowing a friends Lagoon 40 catamaran for a week. On the way we stopped off at Peter’s Bay, which we had all to ourselves. We had an explore up a dry river bed, followed by a skinny dip off the rocks and warming ourselves on the hot rocks after – lovely.
Then it was onwards to Hamilton Island. More on that next blog.