06/18/2012, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
These mature giant clams are 3 feet long and a couple feet wide
Our first experience with the Great Barrier Reef has been fabulous. We are anchored with a group of other cruisers in the well protected bay, with one of the most beautiful of reefs to snorkel within a quick swim of the boat. The reef is absolutely ALIVE! Loaded with dozens of mature giant clams and hundreds of juveniles, it makes for an amazing sight. The reef is completely protected, with a wide variety of reef fish,and lots of action going on. As soon as we dropped our hook two small black tips swam past our boat!
We've also enjoyed a great hike to Cook's Lookout where we imagined being Captain Cook, facing the challenges of entering and exiting through the unknown and uncharted outer reefs safely.
Our Swedish friends on Ambika were hit by lightening on their crossing from Vanuatu to Cairns, and had to hand steer the rest of the way- over 1000 miles, three hour shifts. They lost all their electronic equipment, although could check their position on a IPAD with maps/GPS (which they had put in the stove along with their sat phone). They had absolutely no light while sailing at night, but as luck would have it they were within eye sight of another sailboat who they were able to follow across the ocean and in through the reefs.
We also had a weird temporary glitch in our own GPS systems as we were clearing the reef systems into Cairns and had to hand steer without electronics for a while, of course in the dark, although the stars were very good visual aids. We were happy to see the problem sort itself out, as we are so heavily reliant on all this electronic information these days. My hat goes off to Cook who managed all of these waters without the aids we rely on today-not even a paper chart for heaven sakes- he found the continent himself!
check out our photos in the gallery of more underwater fun stuff
06/15/2012, Up the mast at Marlin Marina
Michael took this fabulous shot of the Marlin Marina and the backdrop of the lovely city of Cairns while checking our rigging yesterday. We plan to head out to explore the Great Barrier Reef anchorages later today. Weather has been sunny, nice and warm in the day time and pretty cold at night (12 degree C).
06/13/2012, Cairns Australia
Exchanging Vanuatu for Australia courtesy flag
The first 24 hours arriving in Cairns, Australia have been a fantastically huge culture shock.
On our last day in Vanuatu we visited two villages deep in the jungle, the second of which had no road access. Although change is slowly occurring in the larger towns of Port Villa and Luganville, the majority of ni-Vanuatans are living a life today that is not much different from that lived by generations before them. They have very little in terms of the material things that westerners take for granted. They eat what they grow, tend to their cattle and pigs and cook on wood burning fires in their thatch and bamboo huts. Their clothes are often tattered and worn, their feet and hands calloused with evidence of their daily existence working their gardens, walking their reefs for shell fish, and paddling their laden canoes over long distances. Those who live at the seaside still make their own dug-out canoes by hand, and use them daily for fishing or travelling to their gardens, which are often on other islands. A huge midden of husked shells lay close to the water's edge, evidence of generations of lives that have depended on the sea. Village life is regulated by complex oral understandings which are passed down generation to generation.
Walk anywhere in Vanuatu, and when you cross paths with another human being, you will most likely receive a hearty greeting, accompanied by a broad smile which seems to come right from their heart and spread to a genuinely compassionate sparkle in their eyes. They are often so interested in your life that it is a challenge to find out about theirs.
Sail eight days west and arrive at the clean, and bustling city of Cairns, Australia. Cairns is the hub of tourism for wealthy adventure seekers from all over the world who are eager to explore the Great Barrier Reef, one of the natural wonders of the world. The harbour is chalk a block full of huge dive boats loaded with hundreds of paid customers. As we made our way into the harbour in the early morning yesterday they filed by us in a long string of wakes leading to the reefs. The city is bursting with restaurants where well coifed locals and tourists order from long designer menus and take photos with expensive cameras dangling off their shoulders. Glistening cars are parked curbside, where the smooth sidewalks sparkle with cleanliness. Absolutely everything is in order. Signage on the jetty warns the fisherman to clean up any and all mess or the jetty will be closed to fishing. The city gleams in the bright sunshine that climbs over the beautifully forested hills in the morning sun.
On a lark, as a steady stream of people trundle by me, I try to attain eye contact. I find that most people are preoccupied with their phones or other gadgets or whatever. Exchanges are superficial, typically marking our invisible boundaries, robotic apologies for accidental bumps or turns into another human being.
It's all kind of a bit overwhelming, and I continue to wonder who lives the richer life?
06/12/2012, Coral Sea
At 4 am this morning we entered the first passage through the Great Barrier Reef. Now that feels, well, GREAT! We have a new flying mascot perfectly perched on our masthead guiding our way in through the reef structures. A flying booby has accompanied us all night, the very first bird ever to come to rest on Paikea Mist's shoulders across the entire Pacific Ocean! Last night we were treated to a rim of fire sunset, with the entire western horizon lit up in a fiery orange capped by the deep blue darkening sky. The water is smooth, winds are at 10-12 knots this morning as we sail up the Grafton Passage towards Cairns. Stars are still out in full, with a waning moon behind us, life is good!
After sunset last night I sat on deck looking at the Big Dipper to the North and the Southern Cross to the south. What a fantastic way to finish a trans Pacific crossing. The continent of Australia now lies a scant 30 miles away. Australia here we come!
06/11/2012, Coral Sea
After the wind picked up yesterday in the wee hours we spent the first part of the day beating into 17- 20 knots, with some impressive pounding. The wind is fluky, and is meandering at least 30 degrees over periods of minutes. We are sailing with our auto pilot on wind, which means our course is not perfectly straight, but the sails are tuned as the wind angle changes, keeping our boat speed up. The winds died down mid afternoon and we motor sailed, sailed, motor sailed, sailed for the rest of the afternoon.
We were all up to see our first way point, just off Magdelane Cays go by at nightfall. Passing small sharp bits of rock and coral at night is a bit frightful, but we are pretty sure of our position using a combination of Google Earth and our C Maps. Our google earth program is now running right in our MaxSea navigation program, so we are able to compare very easily. This is yet another revision of our use of google earth for live navigation, which makes it even easier to use to help confirm whether electronic charts are accurate and if you are where you want to be.
Sightings: As we approached the reef in the light afternoon airs, thousands upon thousands of sea birds were adrift on the open ocean and in flight, some flying in formation. This was truly spectacular especially as there were a wide variety of seabirds to be spotted.
Fish Update: Yellow fin tuna, again too small to keep. We are beginning to think we will not be eating fish, all bananas are going overboard this morning.
After finishing off Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, Kai announced yesterday afternoon that he now knew nearly everything! Megan is rolling her eyes!
Sailing update: Wow it feels good right now-Kai has the sails double reefed main and genoa furled slightly, doing a steady 8.6 knots. I haven't had to touch a thing on my shift yet! At this speed we arrive 6 am tomorrow morning, but more likely we will get there sometime mid day.
06/10/2012, Coral Sea
The winds are beginning to wake us all up from our slothful pose. Literally! At 3 am this morning, all four of us were up! Kai has been doing the 1 to 4 shift, and I follow him on the 4 to 7. As we went through a squall, winds picked up and have stay there ever since. Micheal got out of bed to help reef (my job as I'm next on), I got up so that Michael could go back to bed, and Megan got up to see what all the excitement i was about. I'll stay up, but the other two are back trying to sleep. With over 350 nm to go, a reef structure and the effects of a large continent on the winds, it is best to keep as much energy in the bank as possible. I expect we will be doing some pounding as we meet some of the waves reflected back to us. Yipee! Inside the reef should be smoother sailing again.
Yesterday was a light air day with winds between 8-10 knots. We sailed most of the day on a gentle beat making 5 to 6 knots, with a northerly current pushing us off our rhumbline to the entrance to the reef. We continue to eat well, although as four people can move through alot of groceries in this amount of time, we will likely start to eat a little less gourmet, especially in these winds which are now over 20 knots.
Oh, and don't worry, we are now pointed right to the large entrance to the reef, we just weren't able to do as easily that in yesterday's light airs.
Sightings: 3 freighters in the last 24 hours. We are on the lookout for more traffic as we close in on Australia. Fishing update: We caught a small Mahi Mahi we were didn't keep, and also lost a very pretty pink lure to a big hit almost as soon as the lure hit the water.
We haven't really stopped to figure out the time difference. Of course, we are moving west, so as per our Vanuatan clocks the sun is setting later and my early morning shift is becoming darker and darker.