9 October 2014
At the same moment I realized that I was away from the reef in very deep water, a large Black Tip Shark appeared out of the murky visibility. It looked at me and turned around, heading directly for me! This was not even my biggest concern in the predicament I had fallen into. More on this later.
On the morning after the Abba party we went over to Whitehaven beach and anchored there for a while. The South East breeze picked up a little and I got out the 17 meter kite to have a go. It’s a perfect place for kiting, but unfortunately the wind was not quite strong enough, so although I was able to get going I couldn’t stay upwind, so had to do a few walks back up the beach.
Unfortunately our friends were nearing the end of their holiday so needed to start heading in the direction of Airlie. We sailed and motored to Cid harbour on the other side of Whitsunday island, including a hairy moment going through Fitzalan passage with standing waves against about 4 knots of tide. The boat was surfing but we were going no-where fast. Cid is a perfect sheltered anchorage but with a lot of boats anchored there and very murky water. We anchored in closest to the beach and had the usual sun-downers on the beach followed by dinner with “One More”. Next morning we all (except Silus) did the hike up to the top of Whitehaven peak. It’s a pretty walk and pretty hard on the unfit legs too! The wildlife was un-inspiring. On the way up we saw 5 lizards, 5 LIZARDS! Awesome! The view from the top is breathtaking though, especially to the North.
After lunch we sailed to Airlie and checked in to Abel point Marina once more. We had a delicious (and expensive) feast at Barcelona restaurant, the last meal with Chris and Katrina as they were flying out early the next morning. Next morning it was time for some chores – Lyn washed the boat and did the laundry, whilst Bruce packed away the gennaker and staysail, changed the dive computer battery and got the dive tanks filled. Joe and Belinda had spent the day cleaning “One More” and finally managing to solve the mystery of the broken toilet! We had a walk through Airlie in the afternoon, sundowners at Sorrentos for the girls, then went to dinner at Hoggs Breath (Drew’s choice).
Next morning it was sad to farewell Joe and Belinda. It had been a wonderful holiday with a week filled with fun and adventure, but for them it was back to running the boatyard. For us the holiday goes on. We filled the boat and dinghy tanks with fuel and headed out to Blue Pearl bay, following on the tracks of Anthem who had also been in Airlie with Adrian changing crew and sorting out the water in gear oil issue. The plan was to overnight at Blue Pearl and head out to the reef early morning it was much less crowded after the school holidays and managed to get a mooring. After sun-downers on the beach we enjoyed a delicious meal and fine red wine on Anthem, meeting Adrian’s friend Andrew who is a great bloke with many entertaining stories. Andrew was on the Adrian crash course of scuba training and had had his first dive ever that afternoon.
We left for Bait reef at the relatively civilized hour of 7 AM and had a lovely reach across to the reef in a 10 to 15 knot South Easterly with full main and headsail and later Gennaker. After Anthem we were the second boat out there so picked up our “usual” mooring close to the stepping stones. Right on cue the wind faded (as forecast) and it was time to dive. With the tide ebbing North we took a dinghy to Gary’s inlet and worked our way down-stream back to the boats. With the spring tides it was less visibility than on our previous dives here but still was quite spectacular and not too extreme for Andrew who had literally been thrown in the deep end, but did really well. Back to the boats for lunch and fill the tanks for a dive again in the afternoon.
With the tide still ebbing the plan was to do Manta Ray wall by taking two dinghys, leaving one at the Manta Ray mooring and the other at Gary’s Inlet. The tide was now ripping really strongly along the wall and it was quite rough as we got in the water at Manta Ray, having to hold onto the dinghy to prevent being swept away. We were to go through the small gully that we had done before (in slack tide) and continue down the wall. We all let go of the dinghy together and started downwards, it was immediately apparent that this was way different to our previous dives, the visibility was quite murky from the ripping tide and we could not see the reef wall or gully.
I had mask leaking issues so re-surfaced a couple of times to sort it out. The second time I submerged I could no longer see the others. I swam down in the direction of the gully entrance but could still not see anyone. Suddenly I realised I was really deep at 30 meters, there was down-pull caused by the ripping tidal eddies and I was struggling to get shallower, swimming hard upwards but the gauge was remaining at 30! Eventually I started getting shallower and decided I should surface and try to locate the others, I could still not see the reef wall despite swimming hard in that direction. I had been down for about 10 minutes when I finally reached the surface again. Looking around I was totally disorientated, I was clearly quite far away from the reef wall but also I could see a dinghy which I was already past and it was the JoliFou dinghy, but we had started from the Anthem dinghy!
It took me a while to process all of this and to finally realise that the current had taken me all the way down here in just 10 minutes. No sign of the others and I was now getting worried. What if the same thing had happened to them? What if Lyn had been taken down by the down-eddy and was in trouble, with me no-where around to help!? First priority I had to get back to the JoliFou dinghy which I was now down-stream of, so I needed to get out of the deep water and to the reef where the current would be much less. I went under to start swimming hard towards the reef …. And that’s when I saw the huge shark. We see reef sharks often when diving, but somehow when you are at the reef in good visibility it all feels quite safe, and you just enjoy the beauty of these graceful fish. In the deep, murky, tidal water it was different and the shark was of the size where “it’s too small to bite me” no longer applied. And it had turned and was coming right at me!
Somehow with the worry for Lyn and the others uppermost in my mind I had a sudden mind-change from fear to anger. Come on shark, if you get close to me I’m going to kick you and punch you and you will be sorry! The shark turned away and continued its course, pheww. Maybe it read my mind and got frightened? More likely it decided I was not what it eats and it became bored.
I finally reached the reef, well downstream of the dinghy. I stood up on a shallow bit of reef and looked around, but no sign of the others. I started swimming as fast as I could along the fringe of the reef. Mercifully the tide here was light and even the odd back-eddy to help me on my way. Along the way I saw two schools of huge Maori Wrasse, an amazing thing to savour in any normal circumstance. I finally clambered into the dinghy, stood up and looked around. I saw one diver a little further up-stream near the reef and started heading that way. I’m hoping like hell it’s Lyn or Andrew (I’m not so worried about Adrian as he is extremely experienced). As I get closer I see it’s Adrian – shit, what has happened to the others? Adrian points up the reef and yells “go and get Lyn and Andrew first, she is freaking out!” – relief. They are close to the Anthem dinghy still, at the exit of the initial gully. We are all extremely relieved and happy to be back in the boat and together.
Time for a rum! Back at Anthem and a few rums later we figure out what must have happened. The others had made it into the gully and at the exit there was a back-eddy which kept them there as they surfaced to look for me. They were very concerned as I had literally disappeared. Lyn had seen me on the surface as she went down, went down to the others, realized I was not there and came up to look for me. Meantime I had missed the gully, been swept wide into the deep tidal stream and by the time I surfaced I was already 300 meters away and we could not see each other. Respect for nature’s forces! If you do some simple math, At 4 knots a current will rip you 1 nautical mile in just 15 minutes – that is way further than the eye can see each other at head above water height. Lyn thought I might be dead having visions of me being sucked down and hitting my head or something, she was extremely worried! Meanwhile Andrew was struggling a bit in the rough seas so there was concern for him too. Adrian set off swimming to get the JoliFou dinghy, leaving Lyn and Andrew behind. When they saw someone coming in the dinghy they weren’t sure if it was Adrian and were extremely relieved to see it was me!
Next day the two boats headed over to Hook Reef, the plan being to do some spear fishing which is allowed there (but not at Bait Reef). We picked our way through the bommies quite far into the “hook” and anchored in sand between some likely looking bommies. Adrian and Andrew came over to the JoliFou to have a look at the spear gun inventory that we had inherited from the previous owner. Lyn and I have never spear fished so there was a lot to learn from Adrian who has done it a lot. Between our 4 guns Adrian was able to Macgyver one that works. We need to get the others serviced, new rubbers etc. We all set off in the dinghy with Adrian and I with the guns and Lyn and Andrew were to be the fish killers in the dinghy as we tossed all of the fish in. Well it didn’t quite work out that way. There were not many appropriate fish large enough to shoot. We both had a couple of shots at one, but missed. This spear fishing is a lot harder than I thought it would be. We then decided to take both dinghys over to the outside of the reef and try there, but this too was a failure as the tide was rushing in over the reef and we had no chance of staying at the reef edge. Oh well, at least I now know the ropes and what we need to sort out with the gear.
The wind was building and it looked like it was not a good idea spending another night at the reef, so we upped anchor, pulled up the sails and headed back towards the islands. We parted company with Anthem as they were headed for Gloucester Island and we needed to get somewhere with internet connection as I am going to do some remote work for the next couple of weeks.
11 October 2014
As we prepare to post this blog we are in Stonehaven anchorage on the west side of Hook Island. The Telstra modem gets us an internet connection here and I was able to connect to the work VPN yesterday but it is not strong and we need to find a better place for work next week and to post the blog. Last night was the first night with just the two of us in a while and we had a date night with a delicious candle-lit meal of slow roasted goat (courtesy of the homestead on Middle Percy Island a few weeks ago), followed by watching “The Internship” (hilarious). The mission for the weekend is to try to find a good beautiful anchorage that has good Telstra 4G connection so that I can do the remote work effectively including video conferencing. Airlie beach is always an option, but if possible we would like to be somewhere nicer. We have a Telstra coverage map and we will be sailing around and testing the signal, probably further South around Hamilton Island area.