06/24/2012, Inside the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Paikea Mist is making her way northwest bound for Cape York, the Horn of Australia. The passage up from Cairns has been a beautiful combination of interesting anchorages and nice trade wind sailing, protected from the ocean swell by the long lineup of reefs to our east. From the resort style Lizard Island with its reef snorkels and splendid hikes, to the remoteness of Jewel Reef, our overnight stays have all been varied and beautiful. At Lizard Island the anchorage was full of boats all headed to Darwin for the Indonesian Rally. On our way north we are sailing within a group of five other boats day hopping up the Queensland coast. We are super impressed by a solo French sailor who is often in the lead flying his huge spinnaker sail. That sail is a handful for a shorthanded crew, let alone a guy sailing on his own. Not only that, when he anchored up in the lee of beautiful Morris Island last night he swung by in his dinghy with some freshly caught Spanish Mackerel.
Fishing has been pretty good, mainly thanks to Kai and his fishing skills. We enjoyed a mammoth sushi dinner two nights ago, the result of hooking on a Wavy Back Tuna. This is exquisite fish, and is bar none when eaten fresh from the sea. We've enjoyed a litany of fish dishes including fish burgers, fish tacos , with fish curry on the menu tonight. Might be almost time to pull out some meat from the freezer just for a break!
Morris Island was a real gem of an island to anchor behind. It is a small sandy spot of an island, the entire circumference can easily be walked in less than an hour. The sand in places is so fine it tickles your toes. Lacing out from the ends of the island, lines of sandy wavy beaches stretch for as far as the eye can see, making for excellent shell hunting, romantic strolls and just relaxing walks. The island is low and barren but for a coverage of agave plants and two lone coconut trees.
Sailing inside the Great Barrier Reef is a navigational challenge, our route picks its way past one shoal, reef or rock to the next. Thankfully the charts are very accurate with markers and lighthouses everywhere, so you are in no danger of finding anything unexpected along the way. We've read that the further north you go (above Cape York towards Papau New Guines) the charting becomes less and less accurate, but luckily we turn the corner to Darwin before we really have to worry about that. The entire inside of the reef is very shallow, anywhere from 30-70 feet is the norm for sailing. Depths on the outside of the outer reefs drops instantly to over 2000 feet.
As we leave the outer islands and reefs behind and start to find anchorages closer to the mainland we are tucking our swim suits and dive gear away. The Queensland coast is known for saltwater crocodiles who can swim to any of the nearby islands of their choice. Saltwater crocs are smart and stealthy hunters, and we are told that a swimmer was just eaten by one up by Cape York. All of this makes jumping into the water VERY unappealing. Once we turn west for Darwin we will stop in Gove to reprovision, but from there onwards we will have very little opportunity to get off the boat. We've also been told that there are bushfires burning in the outback causing some smoke to waft out across the water. We are hoping the fires will have dissipated a bit by then, but preparing ourselves for a bit of a grueling last section.
Tonight we are making our way to Portland Roads, an anchorage on the mainland where we are told is a pub we can visit for beers and pizza! Sure hope it's open, I can't wait to meet some of the local characters who call this remote place home. On Google Earth, Portland Roads appears as a tiny settlement at the end of a very long dirt road. We will keep you posted.....
06/21/2012, Ribbon Reef 10, Great Barrier Reef, Au
As we approached the outer edge of Ribbon Reef 10, we scanned for the mooring buoy we were hoping to tie up to for our introduction to diving on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef.
When we found our targeted mooring buoy, Michael eased Paikea Mist directly for the reef, slowly edging his way towards the mooring buoy against 20 knots of wind. The mooring buoy is provided by the National Parks system here in Australia, and helps to preserve the underwater utopia below. Anchors can do irreparable damage to reefs like this. In 30 feet of depth below the keel, I could see the bottom and make out huge fish as we came to our parking spot next to the reef. The wind blew us steadily off the reef, our bow a somewhat hair-raising 20 feet from the reef's edge. We were told to go on this buoy only on an ebbing tide to ensure that we were not taken back onto the reef. We timed our arrival just after high tide, in order to allow all four of us to dive on our 2 sets of dive gear.
This is the wonderful thing about sharing a place like this with the likes of Kai and Megan- it just amplifies the joy. All four of us stood in wonderment for some time, soaking in the fact that we were, well, where we were! At the moment, we had the reef entirely to ourselves, but we knew that the 2 commercial dive boats- one liveaboard and the other out on a dive excursion from Lizard Island Resort would catch up to us after lunch.
As soon as our dinghy was launched, Kai was also launched and we knew immediately by his "whoaaah" that we were in for a good dive.
Michael and I scrambled into our dive gear and leapt from Paikea Mist directly into the clear waters. Just below our keel a huge Potato Grouper hung out, his huge mouth held in a a big rubbery pout. The dive was one of our best across the Pacific, like swimming through a never ending aquarium on steroids. Looking out into the pass huge balls of fish were silhouetted against the clear blue waters. I swam through a mesmerizing swirl of dozens of colorful big eyes who circled around me in a perfectly magical circle.
The big fish on the reef are what give Cod Hole its reputation for being one of the best dive sites in the world, but it was also balanced with a wide variety of beautiful small reef fish all dancing and swaying to the movement of the sea. The huge potato groupers were often stationary, tucked into huge coral outcroppings, and were not frightened by us at all, several of them allowing us to pet them, which they seemed to like. Others were quite inquisitive, swimming directly to our masks to check us out. All the while black and white tipped reef sharks glided slickly through the waters adding a little zest to the tranquil scene.
Once we sucked up every pound of air we had in the tanks, we climbed back aboard the boat slap stick happy. We filled the tanks up and Kai and Megan took off on their dive. Megan's smile at the end of her dive told the story. My oh my what a reef!
As the tide was nearing its cycle to low we slipped off the mooring and shortly thereafter furled out our large genoa to sail down wind back to our anchorage behind Lizard Island. While Paikea Mist cruised over the surf back we topped the day off with a huge mess of nachos.
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!