Saturday, 26 July 2014

Australia, Great Barrier Reef (Hook Reef on the Whitsundays) - 19-07-14

I am an idiot. Unfortunately there's no way to deny this, as I keep doing idiotic things. I've actually managed to seriously injure myself this time, which I guess isn't surprising to anybody who knows me well.

We're in the Whitsundays with Tom, Sarah and Sam. Which is awesome. On our first morning we went snorkeling at Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island, after enjoying ourselves immensely there the afternoon before. We went onto the beach after a long swim and I followed Sarah very carefully onto some low rocks covered in oysters. I guess the ending to this story is pretty obvious.

We hung out enjoying the view for a while, then we went to leave. "Be careful Tom," I said as he navigated the rocks in front of me. "They're really sharp and they'll cut your feet up.""I know, they're lethal," was his reply. Before he even finished his sentence I was sliding down over the razor sharp shells. The rocks weren't big, so I didn't have time to jump or move. I just slid down the side and landed on my feet in the shallow water, slicing my heels up deeply in seven places with numerous other smaller cuts all over my feet. On our first day in the Whitsundays.

I managed to swim back to the boat without attracting any sharks and Garth bandaged me up really well. They weren't quite deep enough to need stitches or a hospital, but I was completely bed ridden for 3 days while we waited for them to close up a bit. We couldn't get steri strips to stick to my heels so all we could do was put strapping tape over my feet to try and close up the cuts. I couldn't walk, run, climb, jump, explore or swim. Which is problematic because I like doing all of these things. If you take them all away I'm just left sitting on a boat incapable of moving and feeling very, very sorry for myself. Which wouldn't have been that bad if I wasn't in pain and I had Internet reception. But we were out of range and I didn't want to take pain killers - standing on the cuts opened them up more and meant they wouldn't heal as fast. So I wanted to know when I stood on them. 

Feet are a lot more important to my life than I had previously realized. And it's kind of impossible to move at all with sore feet - I can't balance in a moving boat and there's so many things to navigate around. If we hadn't had so many helpers it would have been really hard for the two of us to look after a yacht with me unable to move. We have to be more careful.

Before I ruined everything, we were having a lot of fun. The reef at Blue Pearl Bay was one of my favourites... Though I know I say that about all of them. We pulled up a mooring near the shore and jumped in. Straight off the boat we were surrounded by big fish - I have no idea what they were but they were awesome. It looked like they were chowing down on all the bits and pieces growing on the mooring lines, so they were just swimming around the boat. They were about 50cm long and a few cm wide, which made them scary and comical all at once. So it was pretty amazing being surrounded by giant friendly fish straight off the boat. We went snorkeling on the southern side of the reef the first day.

I later heard somebody call these 'Bat Fish'

The reef itself was interesting but not amazing. It was pretty and there was a lot of soft coral as well as the hard stuff, which was different. But I think the fish were definitely the highlight. They weren't scared and there were big schools of quite large fish absolutely everywhere. I thought the middle of the reef was the best, where there were poles marking a path to shore. The northern side of that path was just packed with fish. We found some parrot fish which were really cool, but there were so many different kinds of interesting things swimming around. I loved being surrounded by so many fish - they would come really close and envelop you. I'd go to swim through them and instead of scattering they just looked at me as if to say "what the hell are you doing?" Or I'd stay in one spot for a while and they'd all come up behind me so when I turned around there was a giant school of fish all huddled up next to me looking over my shoulder.

Unfortunately I don't have a dive case yet, so nothing underwater is in focus

We moored on the northern side the next day and I found a big turtle around 100m from the boat. He was so chilled out - I followed him for ages and he just didn't seem to care. So I dived down next to him and he just kept going about his business. I eventually lost him later on when he disappeared into the depths. I was swimming in some shallow water near the shore later that day, making a video with the go pro (sans diving case, so it's bad quality). I looked down and nearly had a heart attack - there was another turtle hanging out just underneath me about 1m away. He was smaller and much more skittish than the other one - he didn't stick around for long. I guess when you're a young turtle you're afraid everything will eat you.

Spot the blurry turtles

So that was Hayman Island. A large portion of it is taken up by a resort and our cruising guide says they are not welcoming of yachties, so we just steered clear of the rest of it. We headed to Langford Reef next, and everybody went snorkeling while I laid in bed for another day. They said it wasn't that great, but they didn't see all of it - we were moored right next to the island so that's where they went swimming. If we head back we'll try further away from the island, on the other side of the sand bank. At least I was allowed to watch the pretty sunset, although it took me a while to maneuver my way into the cockpit.

Garth tried kiting there and it was a good spot, but the wind died after he got the kite up and started moving. Which always happens. The wind hates us.

Hook island is the main island that all the little islands are scattered around in this section of the Whitsundays. So we'll be exploring more of it in the weeks to come. We spent a day at Pinnacle Rocks and Manta Ray Bay, which are on the northern side of it. I missed out again. Garth wrapped my feet up in plastic bags and took me out on the kayak though, which was fun. The rest of our crew loaded into the dinghy and we headed round the corner to a spot where you're actually allowed to fish. There were no fish there. Garth got to try out the spear gun though, and we found some cool caves to take the kayak into.

I missed out on Manta Ray Bay as well. I'm pretty sure we'll go back, because Garth had a lot of fun there. So this is a second hand story from everybody else's adventures.

They took the dinghy around the corner from where we were moored at Pinnacle Rocks and tied it up at Manta Ray Bay. There were no manta rays, but a lot of really huge fish chilling out and enjoying themselves in the no-fishing zone. A Maori Wrasse and something that may or may not have been a tuna were the ones they were paying the most attention to. Everyone was taking a break in the dinghy when Sarah decided to get back in for another swim. She jumped into the water and Tom handed over her flippers. To the tuna. The huge fish came up to the surface and grabbed it out of Toms hand, then swam off with it. Garth had to dive down and retrieve it from the cheeky little bugger, who eventually realized it didn't taste good and let go of it. So that was the excitement for the day, and I guess a lesson in what happens when people have been feeding giant scary fish from their boats - they steal your flippers.

Langford Reef

On the way back to Langford Island we had some more excitement as some whales passed us. First there was a few big whales with a baby quite close to our boat. They were just chilling out. Then there were dolphins. Then the dolphins were swimming WITH the whales. Then MORE WHALES started breaching right next to Hayman Island, throwing themselves in the air and making a big scene. It was spectacular. It was the closest we've seen them breach and it was truly amazing. For the past few days Garth had been saying he could hear whale noises while we were snorkeling and we were beginning to think he was crazy. I guess not.

We really want to see the outer reef. Which is hard. It's a two day passage and there's not much information available on it, so we don't know where to go or where to anchor or what not to crash into. Plus we don't dive - most of the good places are meant for divers, not crazy boat people with snorkels. So we decided to come out to the middle reef instead, which I think is still part of the Whitsundays.

We sailed over to Hook Reef, which was quite a rough trip in some crazy waves and strong wind. The wind was supposed to be strong in the morning and then die down in the afternoon, which was ideal for sailing then snorkeling. It never died down. We're essentially anchored in the middle of the ocean, with nothing around us to block the wind. So last night and tonight we're being knocked all over the place, which isn't great fun. It calmed down this morning long enough for us to go snorkeling though, which was amazing.

We couldn't find any information about snorkeling here, so didn't know where to go. We just headed straight over from our anchorage and jumped in. It's amazing! The water is crystal clear like the jelly water in Fiji - it's definitely the nicest water we've found in Australia so far. I nearly died heading over to the reef in the dinghy - it was just so beautiful. It was shallow enough on the edge of the reef for us to anchor in, which was convenient. There weren't many fish compared to Blue Pearl Bay, in that they weren't as concentrated. But there were lots of different types hanging around the coral.

Memorable discoveries were a clown fish, some rays and a heap of giant clams. Sarah found a few squids but I couldn't track them down again. The highlight of Hook Reef was definitely the coral though. It was beautiful. It looked exactly like you'd expect the Great Barrier Reef to look, with so many different colours sprinkled around through the shiny water. I really love it here - I can't believe not enough people come out here for there to be any information floating around on the net about it. There's pontoons at shark alley for divers, which is on the edge of this reef and another, but we've only seen one other boat in two days. Not that I'm complaining.

Aside from finally letting me swim again Garth allowed me to climb the mast, messed up feet and all. The view was just spectacular. I didn't want to come down! Sarah had a go after me... I really hope we find more places as beautiful as this.

Xxx Monique

Sarah thinks we're THIS big

Looking up at the cliffs at Langford Island

Garth really loves walking along the edges of things and causing mini avalanches. These bits of coral even made a pretty tinkling noise as they fell

Sam. Reading is serious business

Sarah refused to take off her togs the whole time. This trip was for swimming!

Langford Island

Sarah eyeing up a Bat fish at Blue Pearl Bay

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Australia, Airlie beach - 15-08-14

Whales! We got Sam back onboard in Mackay, then headed to Airlie Beach. He was on watch all morning and when I relieved him he was grumbling about not seeing any dolphins or whales. Less than a minute after I took the wheel, a whale popped up straight in front of the bow. Instead of surfacing for a bit then disappearing into the depths like they usually do, this guy and his smaller friend were just hanging out near the surface. They passed right by us on the starboard side, waving goodbye before they eventually took off. I actually managed to get a picture this time, discovering two things in the process. First, I should always leave the long lens on the camera if there's a chance of whales because the small lens won't get a good close up. Second, it's really hard to focus on something quite close through the long lens when we're surfing downwind. It's impossible to keep the camera still! Here are some out of focus whales, anyway.

That downwind run was a bit rough - the waves were much bigger than they would normally be with a steady 15-20 knot breeze. Cue dinghy incident number six and yet another lesson on what not to do. We were towing the dinghy for some reason, even though we were going way faster than it could handle. I was still on watch when the waves got too much for it and managed to flip the poor thing over. Whoops. The seat was tied on tightly (thanks to the Fiji dinghy incident... At least we're learning), but the oars were still inside. The oars aren't meant to be kept in the dinghy at all, and I guess this is why. I yelled out for Garth as I watched them float away, keeping my course just on the verge of gybing - straight downwind with the headsail poled out. One of the worst positions to be in for chasing things that have fallen overboard. We got the pole down, the headsail in and the engine started. Sam looked after the main sail as we followed basic man overboard procedure, while I steered and Garth tried to grab the oars. Garth and I eventually swapped and he put us on a good course for me to get them on board. It took quite a few goes. With three of us. I don't know how I'd do it myself... I think I'd just have to drop the sails, turn on the engine and throw out a rope, assuming the person in the drink was capable of grabbing it. It was good practice regardless, and we won't be leaving the oars in the dinghy again. I hope.

Mackay was scary. The marina was nice, although not as nice as Yepoon where they had a complementary car you could drive around for two hours (free car!!!). But it had a 37m long super yacht parked up at the fuel dock for a few days. Escapade was her name, and she's only three months old. Her 55 metre mast is almost 5 times the length of our whole boat. Five spreaders next to our lowly two. And if that didn't draw enough attention on its own, the whole thing was painted a blinding gold colour. I wanted to touch it. But there's no way I was going anywhere near it, seeing as our 3rd party insurance only goes up to 10 million. And we had to pull up next to it. As in, right next to it. There were two fuel docks with four sides, but everybody was parked up staring at it when we needed to leave. So the only free spot was alongside Escapade. I nearly had a heart attack docking next to such a massive boat, but Garth was all smiles and slid us in and out smoothly whilst singing a song. An actual song, in tune and everything. I'll never understand how he can be so calm and relaxed, but I'm sure as hell grateful for it.

We had to say goodbye to Garth's parents in Mackay, which was sad. They hired a car and spent their last day with us running all around town picking up supplies and tools. Including new flippers, which I broke on Lady Musgrave when a turtle swam by me in shallow water and I got so excited I stood up the wrong way and snapped the plastic. So that was really nice of them, and hopefully we won't need to run around like that again for a while. On the plus side, there was an amazing full moon while we were at the marina.

We anchored at an island overnight in between Mackay and Airlie. It was only a few days ago but I don't remember where it was or what it looked like. So many islands.

Now we've picked up my darling Sarah and her Tom, and we're en route to the whitsunday Islands for a week of relaxing and snorkeling and sunshine and warm weather. Finally!

Xxx Monique

Garth telling me to pull in the headsail... I told him I was going to take some pictures first. He wasn't overly impressed.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Australia, Percy Islands to Mackay - 12-08-14

We lost the dinghy the other day. Again. And then we got it back. Again. It's like a leaky, half deflated boomerang! Maybe it just loves us. Who knows, maybe it's just dumb luck that it hasn't abandoned us yet and dumb stupidity that we don't seem to learn our lesson. Either way we don't come out looking good. This has been the fourth dinghy incident since we left New Zealand. We lost the seat going through a reef in Fiji (but we got it back), it started floating away in New Caledonia after we didn't tie it on properly (I jumped in and swam after it), then we lost it the other day on Lady Musgrave (a nice man with a fast tinny brought it back as it was being dragged out to sea). So we've pretty much worn out our good luck and the chances of getting it back next time are slim to nil.

We anchored at Middle Island in the Percy Islands after lunch, then went exploring with two of us rowing the dinghy and two in the kayak. We discovered a tiny cove with a cute little beach and pulled our boats up onto the shore. But not very far up - we were just going to have a quick look around and there was only a tiny patch of sand in front of the rocks. Then it turned out to be an awesome spot - the rocks were really interesting, there were rock pools everywhere, the view was amazing, the water was crystal clear and there was pretty coral in the bigger pools. So we spent a while exploring.

Then when we had poked, climbed and looked at absolutely everything possible we ducked back down onto our private beach just in time to see the dinghy floating away and the kayak lift up off the ground. A few more minutes and I think they both would have been goneskies. The dinghy beached itself on some rocks and Garth tried to wade out to it, just as the kayak started floating away as well. Then he was just standing in between them looking like he was about to pounce but he wasn't sure in which direction. I was standing on the shore dying with laughter. It was a nice calm day though... It's all fun and games until the wind picks up.

We rowed over to the actual beach and went exploring, which was a lot of fun. The sun was going down so we didn't have much time, but we followed the footsteps leading away from the only other dinghy on the beach. They led us up into the hills overlooking the bay. There were cute little signs pointing the way to the homestead on the island, whose occupants are supposed to be very welcoming of cruisers. There were old and faded arrows nailed to trees to mark the path, and then when the directions stopped there were makeshift markers people had put up such as a pumice stone hanging down from a tree, or string tied to a branch. We eventually lost the path but found a herd of wild goats instead, along with a lovely view of the bay.

The day before we had been over at South Percy Island, which was a lot of fun as well. We went bush bashing across the island into the unknown through scrub, spiders and mass amounts of ferns. Mike went exploring and found a hammock fort in a tree not far from the beach. Of course he and Garth climbed up into it, without really caring that the rope was starting to disintegrate. It took us ages to get back to the beach but none of us got eaten by spiders or snakes, so it was a fun adventure.

It was Christine's birthday so we tried to pack in as much fun as possible. We followed up the bush walk with a snorkel around the rocks. No coral, but there were some interesting fishes. Some of them were huge and they just stayed very still staring up at us - we went out and got the spear gun fixed as soon as we got to land! The reed all around the rocks was really interesting. The rocks were scattered around on a beautiful white sandy bottom, all covered in sea weed stuff. The reeds were long and soft, moving rhythmically back and forth with the current. When I looked down it looked like the sand was moving around and the reed covered rocks were staying still. I spent ages floating above them just staring. It was hypnotising.

We went to Mackay after leaving South Percy, stopping at a nice anchorage in amongst a group of islands on the way. It took us 8 hours to go 18 miles from Middle Percy to our anchorage, motoring for the last three. We were expecting the current and wind to be just as horrible the next day for our 55 mile trip to Mackay so we left at 5am... Then arrived at lunch time after some nice downwind sailing. Although I hid downstairs for most of it - I've figured out that if I lie down I can't be knocked over.

We went past a big group of whales on the way. They were quite a way off in the distance but there were a lot of them in a small space. They were alternating between spurting water everywhere, slapping their tails down all at once and launching themselves completely out of the water. They looked like dolphins from so far away, jumping up and flipping around. So that was really amazing. I just hope we find more!

Coming into Mackay was really interesting. There were coal ships everywhere waiting to get into the port. When it was getting close to their turn they would line up one after another - the line looked like it went on forever. The AIS is amazing - it told us when they were starting to move and when we needed to worry. Yay for the AIS!

Xxx Monique