Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Episode 3 Port Douglas to Lizard Island and Return...


After fitting our new Starter motor to Lorelei, we departed Marina Mirage in Port Douglas on Wednesday morning the 16th of Nov bright and early and sailed north to the Hope Islands. The sail north was fast with 20 knot SE winds, however it was squally and the wind kept changing directions of up to 20 degrees forcing us to change course or trim the sails regularly. At about lunch time we decided to troll for dinner and within a few minutes we had hooked up on a Spanish mackerel.  We had it boated, filleted, decks cleaned and the rods put away all within 20 minutes. Keith was amazed that it all happened so quickly.

We anchored up at the Hope Islands around 4pm and had a yummy dinner followed by a great sunset and some night fishing.

Keith got a big hookup but ended up getting busted off after the fish went through the reef. Dad got some smaller reef fish like Sweetlips and Emperors.

On the Thursday we went onto the Hope Islands and had a great time walking the Island and snorkeling.

Every evening 1000’s of Torres Pigeons would return from feeding on the mainland and comeback to the island to roost.

Thursday evening we did some more night fishing and caught some good reef fish species like Red Throat and Spangled Emperor. Keith once again got busted up by a large denizen of the deep. Lisa won the night with some good size fish.

On the Friday morning we left at 5am from the Hope Islands and enjoyed a beaut sunrise over the island as we left. We had a cracking sail north with perfect wind strength and direction for a fast but comfortable 60nm run to the patch reef system between Ribbon Reef #9 & #10.

We pulled into the reef at 2pm and managed to snorkel Challenger Bay for the afternoon. The fish life was immense and Keith and Dad were blown away by the diversity and quantity of the fish. As soon as we jumped in we were greeted by large schools of Barracuda, Trevally, GT’s, Sharks and Diagonal Banded Sweetlips.  We stayed at Challenger Bay overnight.

On Saturday we went and snorkeled The Monolith dive site. This was Keith’s favourite spot as it has some great terrain and some big trenches and gutters that had some beautiful coral formations.
We have been doing a lot of Freediving and Paul is now exceeding 30m depth and Lisa is doing over 20m. This spot was perfect for those deeper dives.
At lunchtime went over to the bottom of Ribbon Reef #10 and anchored up there for the rest of the day and night. We managed to Snorkel a couple of Bommie’s that looked pretty well untouched by Humans. The coral condition was excellent.
This photo was taken there with George’s little Olympus waterproof camera…

Sunday we took Lorelei over to Pixie Reef and spent the day and night there. We free dived Pixie Pinnacle first up and went over to Pixie Gardens for most of the morning. This photo is Lisa freediving the Pinnacle which is 35m deep at the bottom.

George at Pixie Pinnacle

That afternoon we went over to Pixie Wall for another free dive session.
This spot has some amazingly long caves that go from the reef face deep up into the reef and open out through a small hole on the reef top. We found we could swim down through the holes and out onto the face. Most were 30m long and a few were over 50m long. The exit depths were between 12 and 25m deep which made for some awesome freediving.

Sunday the 20th was also Lisa’s 41st birthday and she was stoked to have spent the day at Pixie Reef.  We barred her from the Galley that day and instead Paul, Keith and George took over the cooking duties. Paul cooked a wicked Pavlova for dessert.

Monday morning we were on the move again and headed 15nm north to the top of Ribbon Reef #10 to the World Famous Cod Hole. This spot is very well known to Paul as he used to feed the Giant Potato Cod here on Scuba for the guests for many years whilst on Spirit of Freedom. We jumped into 30-40m visibility which was fantastic. There were a massive amount of fish and sharks under us as soon as we got in. We took Dad and Keith for a tour of the area and showed them the highlights. Keith was gobsmacked when Paul dived down to a big Potato Cod and gave him a cuddle and got snuggled back!! Little did Keith know it was one of the ones Paul used to feed and they knew each other well.

Diagonal Banded Sweetlips at the Cod Hole
The Cod Hole from Lorelei

After the Cod Hole we started motoring back in towards Lizard Island and took the scenic route around No Name Reef and Thru Dynamite Pass. About ½ way to Lizard we stopped at a favourite little secret spot of Paul’s for a fish and a spear. Dad and Keith both got some good fish on spot plastics and dad got his first Mackerel on them. Paul got Coral Trout on them too. Paul and Lisa had a spear here too and it was very fishy (and sharky). For those that know – this is the spot that has loads of the large Olive Sea Snakes…..

At 5pm Monday the 21st Nov we motored into Lizard Island for the first time onboard Lorelei. This is our furthest point north on this trip and we are all stoked to be here finally! We anchored up next to “My Way” which is to the left in the photo and is owned by Motorcycle Champ Mick Doohan.

Tuesday morning Lisa, George and Keith did a huge snorkel from Lorelei over to the reef in the middle of Watsons Bay,  into one end of the beach, up to the other end and back to Lorelei. It took 2.5 hours. Paul concentrated on the washing and odd jobs that needed to be done.

Wednesday we got up early, packed our backpacks and snorkeling gear and headed towards the blue lagoon on foot which is on the southern side of the island. We had to climb over Chinaman’s Ridge to reach the Airstrip before following it south. On the way we saw the Historic Mrs Watson’s Cottage and some beaut scenic views.

The central valley of Lizard looks more like the plains of Africa than a Tropical Island

Paul showed them the Marlin Bar ( Home of the Lizard Island Game Fishing Club and the Prestigious Rolex Black Marlin Tournament ) on the way.

This Black Marlin weighed in at 1047lb

It was a hot walk there and back but the rewards were worth it.  The beach on the southern side was secluded and stunning!

Keith with his beachcombing sculpture.

Wednesday night we ventured into the beach at 5pm for our first time at the nightly “yachtie drinks on the beach”. We met two couples both on 40ft cats who had just returned from 6 years in Asia and they had some fantastic stories to tell.

Thursday morning Keith and George put the kayaks in and did a big paddle up the creek at Watsons Bay, around to the resort and a further 3 beaches beyond that. They were gone for 3 hours in total.

Keith passing Paul’s old home “Spirit of Freedom”

After lunch we snorkeled Mermaid’s Cove with it’s great coral and surprisingly vast amount of fish life.
That afternoon we both went over to visit long term cruising friends Paul and Barbara and their new boat Aqua Safari. It’s been ages since we caught up in person so it was a great arvo.

Friday morning we had planned to take the big RIB out to fish and spear some isolated shoals about 4nm NE of the Island however the wind picked up quite early so we aborted to idea and did other things. George loved the kayak trip so much the day before, he took Paul on the same trip again.
We disturbed a large Lemon Shark in the shallows at the mouth of the Creek and saw some great bird life.

The tide was so high that we couldn’t get the kayaks under the walk bridge – so we went over it!!!

Friday evening Paul made prawn sushi for dinner. Keith kept the heads and shells to feed our resident Spangled Emperor that lives under our boat. After about 5 minutes a huge GT (Giant Trevally) over 1m long turned up for a feed too. This has been the biggest GT Keith has seen and he still talking about it!!! Look closely and you can see the prawn in the GT’s mouth.

Lisa did Nasi Goreng the next night with the prawns again and this time 5 small sharks turned up….

Paul, Keith and George got up early on Saturday morning and decided to tackle the biggest walk on the island, “Cooks Look”. This is a 4 hour walk to the highest peak on the Island. It is challenging, however the views from the many vantage points are stunning. We were all very hot and soaked with sweat when we reached the top.

Watson's Bay

The Blue Lagoon

The Airstrip

Paul’s retro Cooks Look Pic in remembrance of Captain James Cook who stood on this very spot looking for a passage through the Ribbon Reefs.

On Sunday Lisa did a kayak trip with Keith over to Mermaids Cove and a few other beaches. They snorkeled too. George took himself off on a big snorkel trip and Paul got stuck with the hull cleaning, the clothes and sheets washing and a bit more stainless polishing. At the end of the day we had the cleanest boat in the bay!!! That arvo we had the first decent rain in weeks. Paul and Barbara came over for drinks on Lorelei that night. They have been north to the Torres Straight over winter and said it’s the first rain they have seen for over 5 months. It’s a pity it only lasted about 20 minutes…

Monday we left Lizard Island at 7:30am. We had a fantastic week there and we all had mixed emotions about leaving. The weather looked perfect for being out on the reef  with SE 10-15 for about a week. We motored down to the bottom of Ribbon #10, anchored up and took the big RIB over to Challenger Bay for another great snorkel there.

Tuesday we took a punt and moved down to Ribbon #9. We have never been there before and there is no anchorage marked on the charts, however we are getting pretty confident on how the reef works up here. Paul went up the crows nest and we worked our way into a fantastic spot that was safe, calm and surrounded by some amazing reef and bommies.  We were stoked and the exercise has given us confidence to slowly work our way down the reef and explore some areas of the ribbons that are virtually untouched.
Ribbon #9 is a blue zone and finally we can fish and spear again after being surrounded by so many green zones ( No fishing or spearing) around Lizard.
That arvo we had a fishing competition and Lisa and Keith decided to fish from the kayaks while Paul and George took the RIB over to the deeper reefs. Bait was not allowed – only lures, flies and soft plastics. We all had gear too light for this area and we all got busted up on fish we couldn’t turn. It was a great arvo’s fun though.

Our weapons of choice….

“Team Stealth” Lisa and Keith

That night we had our first TV experience for over a month and had a movie night on Paul and Lisa’s double king size bed with “Fools Gold” which was filmed at Lizard Island and Port Douglas.

Wednesday we woke to a beautiful day with clear skies, no swell and little wind. Perfect!! We dropped the RIB in and headed over to a chain of bommies Paul and George found whilst fishing the day before. We had a great morning spearing and snorkeling this spot. Lisa speared a big trout  - the largest of the trip yet…

For the arvo we took the RIB up into the shallows right up against the pavement and did a drift snorkel over the scattered reef for about a mile.

That evening we had the trout for dinner in the cockpit and while Keith was enjoying his last mouthful, his fishing line took of and he settled in for a 30 minute fight on light line. In the end it was a grey reef shark but a good fight, a load of fun and heaps of friendly banter.

Thursday, the 1st of Dec and another stunning day on the reef. We decide to head further south again with the great conditions and motor the 30nm south to Ribbon #5.
We hooked 2 fish trolling on the way but they were both only barracuda so we let them go.
When we arrived at Ribbon #5 it was very overcast and we couldn’t see the reef at all. Paul went up into the crows nest but it was still not much better viz. We motored very slowly in toward the reef edge and managed to find a clear area in 16m of water so we anchored up there. 1 hour later the sun came out and we went to check our position and Lorelei was perfectly placed in between all the surrounding bommies. It was more ass than class.
That arvo we took the RIB 2nm south and snorkeled on one of Paul’s favourite dive sites, The Clam Gardens. The viz was 30m+ which was great.
Pretty amazing to think this anemone with it’s 2 little fish are just the way they were over 7 years ago when Paul started on Spirit of Freedom.
Not a bad pic from Georges little camera.

We enjoyed an awesome evening of great weather, drinks, fishing, music, birds on the boat and a beaut sunset.

Friday was another cracking day so we decided to do a drift spearfish on the flooding tide through the pass separating Ribbon #4 and #5. We started on the outside of the reef in very deep water and had 30m viz as we drifted in. Lisa took the first shot and immediately we had at least 6 large grey reef sharks come straight in. Keith eyes were like saucers – it was pretty cool. We got some great fish with Paul topping the day with a 7kg trout.

That arvo we went over to another reef just north of Clam Gardens that had a large mooring on it. Paul didn’t know what it was so we had to check it out. It was a great location and we saw a huge spotted eagle ray in the shallows.

Saturday morning we were on the move again but this time only a short hop south to Ribbon #3. Finally we got there. This was where we wanted to go when the starter motor died and also on the way north but the weather didn’t allow so it was third time lucky on the way back down.
We stopped at the world famous Steve’s Bommie for a freedive around the pinnacle. This is one of the worlds leading dives so it was very cool to take George and Keith there and show then the huge amount of schooling fish around the pinnacle. The pinnacle starts at 4m deep and is only about 10m across at the top and is volcano shaped going to 38m deep. We were moored about 30m away from the pinnacle and we had to swim across. Keith is getting used to our crazy antics but still thought this was a bit out there. His fears were soon forgotten when we jumped in a found a very large school of Big Eye Trevally right under the keel of Lorelei. It’s had to describe actually how many fish were there but it was a very awesome experience for all and Lisa’s best spot so far for the entire trip. We took the video camera in and got some very good schooling fish footage and us both freediving all the way to the bottom.

In the afternoon we continued our motor south and had to weave through the bommies surrounding Escape Reef before anchoring for a well deserved rest there after a huge day. Lisa and George still had the energy for a late arvo snorkel.

Sunday we continued the move south and decided to go 20nm to Undine Cay. This was to be our first Cay for the trip and the first one for Keith. We went onto the cay for lunch and the afternoon. We swam, sunbaked, ate and had a great time. Lisa took her blow up Nessie for a swim (see photo) and Paul took his new 9m long Octopus kite for its maiden flight.

Monday was the last push south and we motored 18nm down to George’s favourite place of the trip “The Low Isles” which is only 10nm out from Port Douglas. That arvo Keith and George had a snorkel and Paul and Lisa did a kayak paddle around the big island. We found a stack of little creeks to explore. They had mangroves around the edge but the water was crystal clear with coral on the bottom. We saw a stack of turtles and sharks smashing thru the schooling fish feeding in less than 2 feet of water. Very cool…

That evening we had a storm come through with some lightning but unfortunately not much rain. The clouds over the island were brilliant white low and black above. We woke the next morning to a glorious day and here are the evening/morning shots taken 12 hours apart at 7pm and 7am.

Tuesday what a day!!!! Not a breath of wind, hot, sunny and amazing underwater viz. We could see every ripple of sand on the bottom below the boat! This was George and Keith’s last full day out on the reef and they had a blast. They went for a big kayak/snorkel early and had another snorkel in the arvo. Lisa went for a solo snorkel with her video camera. The local National Parks Officers were out in their boat and much to their amazement, found her happily swimming along miles from anywhere and all alone.

There were 6 black tip reef sharks under and around the boat all day and we had a swim with them too. Keith and Paul made a funny shark video after lunch to show the friends at home how nuts we really are.

In the arvo, George and Paul went for a kayak into the beach and went for a stand up paddle too.

That evening we recounted our favourite parts of the last 5 weeks over drinks and a cheese platter.

Wednesday morning we got going at 6am to be into Marina Mirage at Port Douglas on the morning’s high tide.
We have a busy 3 days ahead with regular maintenance, refueling, servicing, cleaning and Pete our rigger is coming to inspect our mast, winches and rig before our big offshore adventure starting next year.
We have organised a hire car on Thursday and will take Keith and George down to Cairns Airport at noon and do some running around and reprovisioning in Cairns in the arvo.

We will leave Port Douglas on Friday 9th of December and spend about 10 days making our way slowly south to be in The Whitsundays a few days before Christmas and finally catch up with close friends Rod and Mel and their kids Claudia and Hunter onboard their 50ft cat “Heartbeat”. We can’t wait to see them and hear of their trip north.

The last 3 weeks have been an absolute blast. Lorelei and her workings are going great. We have both lost a stack of weight, are nicely tanned and Lisa’s hair is super Blonde. George and Keith are leaving us buzzing at so many new experiences and the weather and wind direction has been perfect. If the next few weeks in the lead up to Christmas are like this then its happy days for all…

Have a great lead up to Christmas everyone and enjoyed the festive season, those Chrissy Parties and some nice warmer weather….
CHEERS!!! – Paul and Lisa. Team Lorelei.

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