Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Episode 55 Lizard Island to The Whitsunday Islands

For Episode 54 we sailed from Gove in the Northern Territory, across the Gulf of Carpentaria to Queensland and rounded the Tip of Australia before sailing slowly south down to Lizard Island.

Lizard Island from the air

We spent 2 weeks in Lizard riding out strong winds, kiteboarding, scuba diving, kayaking and exploring the island.

Paul kiting in paradise at Lizard Island

Swimming in the beautiful Watsons Bay, Lizard Island

Our location for this episode

Left: Our route for this episode
Right: Our detailed route through the Ribbon Reef system

Our detailed route through the Whitsunday Islands

Finally after 2 weeks at Lizard Island, the wind and swell dropped enough for us to transit out to the Ribbon Reefs to do some diving.
The closest Ribbon Reefs to Lizard are numbers 9 and 10.
These were also home to Paul’s favourite dive locations when he worked on the liveaboard dive vessel “Spirit of Freedom”

However after talking to our friend Tony (the SOF Captain – see Episode 54) he warned us that many of those sites were in poor condition due to the damage from 2 major Cyclones over the last 3 years.
But we really wanted to dive Paul’s favourite, Challenger Bay at Ribbon 9 and see for ourselves.

Sure enough it was destroyed in the shallows and we were very sad to see our once favourite spot in such a terrible state.
Some of the deeper bommies below 20 meters were OK but still not what they used to be.
We took a few photos but that’s all.

Our favourite Bommie at 24m/80ft still had some coral and lots of glass fish

So the next day we dived Lighthouse Bommie at 6am which is a deeper Pinnacle and it was much better.
There is a gutter between the pinnacle and an adjoining reef and it was filled with fish of all sizes – most of them hovering above us.

We thought it unusual to have Coral Trout in mid water above us hunting the bait fish.

On the bottom, the rocky areas were filled with 100’s of yellow Five-Lined Snapper.

Meanwhile Lisa was using her 60mm lens to get up-close fish photos and other smaller things.

We enjoyed it so much that we dived it again the next morning.
This time we had loads of Olive Sea snakes all around us and Barracuda schools hovering overhead.

If we thought the Coral Trout being in mid water the day before was unusual, then seeing them swimming around 12m/40ft off the bottom with the schooling Barracuda was certainly out of the ordinary!!

Lisa was getting creative again with the coral and fish.

She even posed as a model for Paul with the coral trees around the Lighthouse pinnacle and with the yellow snapper.

With the rest of the spots around Ribbon 9 and 10 damage affected to some degree, we packed up and transited down to Ribbon no.5.
We managed to sail the entire way but had to dodge a few reefs on the way.
Some of which we sailed very close to.
Paul climbed up into the crow’s nest to visually check we had deep enough water in front of Lorelei.

We had a much calmer night at Ribbon 5 and a nice sunrise the next morning.

We went and dived a new spot for us near Ribbon No.5.
The dive site has only been discovered recently and its exact location is still a well-guarded secret so we cannot say where it is or what it is called.
But we will say it is like what the famous “Steve’s Bommie” used to be like 20 years ago.
We were very impressed and dived it twice over 2 days as it is a deeper dive.

The pinnacle has fish life all over and around it and there are lots of fans, sponges and coral trees in the deeper water.

Lisa found lots of Nudibranchs on the rock walls but many were in tight spaces and difficult to get the camera into.

Each night at Ribbon 5 Paul filled our scuba tanks because at 6am and 6pm it was low tide which made the reef exposed and the anchorage flat.

We went to visit one of Paul’s other favourites – Clam Gardens.
It had changed a bit from the cyclones, but the coral below 6m/20ft was in pretty good condition.

There were only about 50% of the Giant Clams still alive and we managed to get photos of them, some of which are over 100 years old.

In-between modelling for Paul, Lisa found heaps of very small Emperor Shrimp on the Sea Cucumbers.

This Emperor Shrimp is approximately 4mm long.
The white splotches are grains of coarse sand…..

With strong SE winds forecasted (again….) we elected to leave and sail 70nm south to the Low Isles which are just out from Port Douglas.

We had ESE winds around 10-15 knots which was perfect and we sailed door to door and only ran the engine a few minutes at each end to raise and lower sails and for anchoring.

However sailing all the way meant we would possibly get in after dark so for the last 20 miles we sailed as fast as we could while the sun did amazing things with the clouds off to our starboard side.

We arrived just on dusk and by the time the anchor was set it was getting dark over the Low Isles.

We only stayed overnight before a great sunrise and transiting into Port Douglas for 2 days.

It was bitter-sweet for us to return to Port Douglas – a place we used to like so much.

The “sweet” was to see Pete Grieg the rigger.
He did the extensive re-rig on Lorelei before we left to go offshore sailing.
It was a monstrous job and took 8 weeks with the full removal of all of the rigging and masts.
After sailing the equivalent distance of around the world, we can say the rig is still in near perfect condition and we only had very minor issues along the way.
It’s a real testament to Pete’s work ethics and knowledge.
We’d sail half way around the world to get him to re-do it again.

Pete did spend a little time aloft (whilst tied up alongside the public jetty) to re-align our spreaders which had sagged slightly.

The “bitter” was the new development that is underway.
Sadly a Texan company has brought the Marina and is moulding it into a new superyacht complex with no consideration for the needs of the local community, those locals who own boats, cruising yachts or the tourist charter businesses.
Additionally they are changing the foreshore area and many local businesses (including Pete’s rigging area and the slipway) are going to be replaced with luxury condos and there has been no new space allocated for them to relocate.

We rang to rent a marina berth overnight and were horrified to find the prices had almost doubled since we were there last.
It now makes it the most expensive marina we know of on the east coast for a single night rental basis.
So we went up the inlet to try and anchor.
With the scores of local boats being forced out of the marina due to the price and the many transients and cruisers also looking for a cheaper place to stay, there were literally hundreds of boats parked all too close to each other for almost the entire way up the inlet.
We couldn’t believe it.
In the end we almost went back out to the Low Isles but we were desperate to get some fresh food, stock up on yummy Christmas goodies and get some fuel.

So in the end we anchored along the side of the inlet and the main channel but very close to the mangroves. In fact we could reach out and touch the branches.
Talk about ridiculous…..

That night we ended up in the trees 4 times and almost broke our wind generator blades too.
Paul didn’t get a lot of sleep.
Fortunately it was glassy the next morning and the tide held us parallel to the shore so we could get stuck into the re-provisioning.

We manually carried 800 litres of fuel from the service station (the marina price was, as you can guess – expensive…..) and Lisa managed to do the shopping at Coles and get a Taxi back.

Pete did part 2 of the rigging on the public jetty and we were back at the low isles that afternoon.
Thank goodness we were outta there. Very sad through.
We used to like the place - a lot…….

The sunset with the cloud cover was once again awesome with light rays shining down over the island.

We had some small birds sitting on the bow rail that night.

We woke to a tranquil and peaceful Low Isles.

Well that was until 7:45am when the first tourist boats started to arrive.
They used to arrive between 9-10am and all be gone by 4pm but now there are more companies and some with high speed boats doing up to 3 runs out to the island a day – hence the earlier starts and later finishes.

By 10am it was full swing with a dozen charter boats moored and 100’s of holidaymakers enjoying their day in paradise.

We had a rest day and stowed all the provisions before another great sunset..

Early the next morning we dropped in the kayaks.
We paddled over to nearby Woody Island and explored the mangrove areas.

Up in the shallows we saw a lot of sharks.
They were mostly Back Tip Reek Sharks and Nurse Sharks.
We tried to get a lot of photos but with the old Olympus camera it was hard to get anything decent. But we did get one or two…

So the next day we did it again but this time with one of Paul’s Nikon DSLR cameras balanced between his legs in a Tupperware container.
It worked a treat and we were rewarded with some better photos.

The Lisa spied (and heard) a lot of commotion in the shallows within the mangroves.
So we snuck up to find a school of larger 2.5m/8ft Nurse Sharks having a feeding frenzy in only 50cm/1.5ft of water depth.
It was chaotic and we got some photos and a great experience for a few minutes before they realised we were there and they took off.

After reprovisioning in Port Douglas, it was like Christmas on board with so much fresh food.  OH wait – it was Christmas….
For the 3 days lead up to Christmas Day we indulged on what most land based people would call the “normal things”.
Fresh milk, fresh juices, salads, veges, fresh bread, bakery treats, ice cream and the list went on and on and on.
It was excellent after such limited fresh food available in Gove (that also didn’t keep well in the fridge). And that was 8 weeks ago….

For Christmas Lunch we had a simple but tasty meal of caesar salad, seafood vol-au-vents and Christmas puddling with salted caramel sauce.
All topped off with a bottle of wine and a bottle of baileys.

The batfish had a nice Christmas Day feast too when they hoovered up all our kitchen scraps.

We woke Boxing Day to an amazing sunrise with thousands of birds flying from Woody Island back to the mainland to forage for food.

We were going to leave to sail out to the reef but it was still overcast with light rain and Lisa tested the TV reception and was very excited to find we had perfect reception to watch the Sydney to Hobart yacht race start.
So we stayed one more day, ate more yummy food and followed the race…..

Finally we did leave and sail out to St Crispin Reef which is below the Ribbon Reefs and on the edge of the barrier reef/continental shelf.
We had a satellite image of the area which allowed us to weave around lots of bommies and into an area shallower and closer to the fringing reef edge.
Rather than scuba diving, we went spearfishing instead.
But with so much reef surrounding us, we found it much more fun to spear from our kayaks.

On the third day Paul had a little accident.
We both had swapped to brand new spearfishing knives that were very sharp.
Paul slipped and put his into the end of his finger whilst dispatching a Coral Trout.
It was only a little incision in the glove but it was bleeding a lot so we returned to Lorelei to fix it up.
We were both horrified when we took the glove off to see the damage.
The knife had gone in at the tip and had gone down behind the nail and exited between the nail and the first knuckle.
The only thing stopping the finger splitting in two was the nail which was still intact but you could see the cut line when looking through the nail.

We thought the worst but it cleaned up well and we butterfly clipped it back together.
Surprisingly, after 24 hours there was little to no pain and within 3 days it had completely sealed. He stopped using any bandages by day 4.
However he now has a finger that has full feeling on one side and very little on the other which is a little weird.

On the way south we stopped once again at the Low Isles but this time we went ashore to finally meet the caretakers Jenny and Wayne.
Paul parents George and Chez are the island’s relief caretakers and look after the place for Jenny and Wayne whenever they need to get away or have a holiday.

We did a walk around the island just before sunset and saw a lot of birds, many with young chicks.

Note the bundle of fluff that is a young chick on the left.
It was only a few days old.

We watched one of the charter cats sailing towards Port Douglas with some terrific cloud formations in the background.

We paddled back to Lorelei with a fantastic sunset overhead.

It was the last day of the year and we really wanted to see the NYE fireworks in Cairns so we left at 6am.

The sail down coincided with the first low pressure system that was building for the season.
On the horizon were unusual colours in the sky and clouds making the water look green.

We arrived by 2pm but it took over an hour to find an anchorage.
Like Port Douglas, the Cairns inlet is now filled with 1000’s of moorings and mostly unattended boats that line both banks and are all very close together making it virtually impossible to safely anchor a vessel of Lorelei’s size between them – particularly with the deeper water and needing a lot of chain.
All we could do was head further up the inlet away from the city until we found suitable space.
That ended up being almost 2 miles but we didn’t have a choice.

Even further up there were more moorings some of which were very close to the large barges moorings in the inlet.
Check out the photo below of how close they were getting….

Thank goodness we had a large tender and transiting the 2 miles back to the marina was not a problem.
Once again the marina prices had skyrocketed and a berth for Lorelei was over $100 per day so we decided to get an all-hours access pass for the tender and stay on anchor for the 5 days or so that we were going to be there.

That night was the NYE fireworks on the Cairns Foreshore at both 9pm for the families and at midnight for the partiers.

After a little searching, we found a quiet spot that would give us great photo opportunities with reflections in the water and the city lights in the background.

Even the test shots looked great!!

Due to the confined space the fireworks are set off from only a single barge.

In between the 9pm and midnight fireworks we wandered the foreshore area taking other fun time exposure photos and enjoying the party atmosphere.

At 11pm it started to rain.
Everybody in the top end wanted rain – just not now…..
Fortunately at 11:45pm it stopped and the midnight fireworks went off with a bang!

For the next few days we went to town and did all the running around.
We tried to register Lorelei but found out vessels over 15m now have to have a special approval so we had to send that off.
However being a government dept., nothing happens too quickly and it wasn’t approved before we left.
We weren’t complaining. At over $850 a year to register Lorelei and her tender in QLD (but only half that in NSW and nothing in the NT – go figure…..), we were happy to delay as long as possible.

At the marina we noticed a large Marlin statue that must have been erected in the last 5 years as we don’t remember it being there before.

We also caught up with close friends David and Maddie.
David has been Lorelei’s marine engineer for years and installed the new engine in 2012. We also visited them in Thailand in 2015 which was a blast so it was great to have us all in Cairns at the same time and catch up.
But Paul forgot to take a camera…..

We had some great bird life in the inlet with lots of smaller finches, sparrows and honey eaters flitting around the boat and occasionally into the cockpit.
One even flew inside and sat on the internal stairs looking around.

In the end the bugs in the inlet and the weather forced us to leave after only 4 days and we headed south to Dunk Island.

We motored out of Cairns Inlet at 6am right as a large Cruise Ship was entering.
With the sun shining on the ship and the city, it made for some great photo ops.

We motored down the coast in near glass out conditions.

However by midday the storms started rolling in from both out to sea and over the mainland.

It was an 85nm run to Dunk and we knew we would arrive after dark but we made pretty good time and arrived about 20 minutes after sunset and could still just see enough for us to anchor safely without too much guessing.

With a strong 20-25 knot SE front due the next day we waited on board for it to hit and make sure the anchor was set and secure before we could leave Lorelei.
We checked the weather radar on the net to find a low pressure cell spinning over Townsville (below us) and we were sitting right on the edge of the system which was producing a lot of rain.
There was flooding all up and down the coast with roads and train lines cut but we woke to nice weather.

There were families on the island and lots of people water skiing and having fun in and on the water.

We noticed the island’s resort was still not open after a major cyclone tore through it in 2011 and severely damaged the resort, island and infrastructure.
However people were having meals down at a beach shack bar & café located down closer to the main jetty and sand spit.

By mid-morning the bad weather had moved from Townsville north towards us and we received a lot of rain.
We spied one yacht coming into the anchorage at midday during an intense storm.

The afternoon was a white-out with such heavy rain that visibility was down to only a few hundred meters at best.

That night it poured with rain. It was so heavy at times that the deck scuppers (drains) couldn’t cope and the side decks had a solid 50mm/2” of water over them.
The rain gauge at dawn revealed we had received well over 100mm/4” overnight.

For the next 2 days it rained and rained and rained…….
Along with that came squally conditions with confused seas and wind from every direction.
It wasn’t pleasant inside Lorelei as it was rolly, stuffy and hot but at least we were safe and secure.
With nothing else to do we turned on the TV and watched the tennis – well Lisa watched the games while Paul concentrated more on Caroline Wozniacki and Eugenie Bouchard………

The morning that the weather cleared, the wind came in from the NE making the anchorage exposed and uncomfortable.
Were had no option but to leave and sail south.
But the sunrise was great from both the east and west.

We really wanted to do the amazing Valley of the Palms walk on the island but sadly we couldn’t.
In fact we never even stepped foot ashore.
Oh Well…..that’s cruising!

The upside was the sail south was brilliant.
There were NE winds around 10-15 knots with relatively flat seas but it was a little choppy.
We sailed out to the inside edge of the barrier reef and cruised down using it for protection.

Lorelei started with a main and genoa but the more north the wind went, we swapped to a main and spinnaker configuration.

That night also coincided with the full moon.
The rain had stopped, the skies had cleared, the moon was super bright and the wind stayed constant making for a most enjoyable overnight passage past Cape Bowling Green which is normally a rough stretch of water.

The next day were lighter winds but we pulled the spinnaker in tight and used it like a big light wind genoa and ghosted down past Cape Upstart and Bowen in dead flat conditions at about 4 knots.
It was slow but consistent.
There was an amazing post sunset range of colours over Gloucester Island before arriving at The Whitsunday Islands after dark.

The wind picked up on the final leg along with the current assistance and we reached down the protected side of Hook Island doing over 8 knots before dropping sails and motoring into Nara Inlet at 10pm.
Lorelei had sailed door to door from Dunk to Nara covering a distance of 212nm past want is considered one of the most difficult areas when heading south along the east coast so we were very happy.

A bunch of the sailor’s superstitions had been broken on the trip.
We left port of a Thursday (Thor’s Day who is the god of Thunder and Storms), there were Bananas on board (real ones and lolly ones), there was a female on board, we had a large Hammerhead Shark follow us (the old sailors feared the lurking shark) and we sailed overnight to Friday on the full moon.
And of all things – it was Friday the 13th!!!
Thankfully we are not superstitious.

Despite being clear and calm that night in Nara Inlet, we woke to grey skies, lightning and thunder.

By 9am it was clearing up so we started on the huge clothes washing pile.
There were about 10 loads to do after being in so many rolly anchorages for weeks and not being able to run our top-loading washing machine.

By the second load the clouds came over and for 90 minutes it blew over 35 knots from many directions and poured with rain. We had over 50mm in 90 minutes and it was a white out.

Lorelei was anchored in the centre of the inlet and at 11am we had to turn our outside lights on as a flotilla of rent-a-yachts staggered into the inlet, motoring very close to us and looking like drowned rats.
Nara is usually empty by day as most charter yachts come into anchor at around 3-4pm, so it was interesting to see them all running up the inlet seeking shelter so early in the day.

The steep walls of the inlet produced scores of small waterfalls as the catchment water poured down the hillside and into the inlet.

It was overcast and drizzling all day and only cleared right on sunset.

Needless to say we stopped washing and waited until the next day when it was a much nicer day.

With the chores complete we moved up into Refuge Bay which is a small inlet off to the side of Nara Inlet.

It had a fringing reef that is full of sea life and great for a kayak or SUP on the mid to high tide.

Refuge Bay was perfect for sunrise reflections shots as it looked out to the east over the main inlet.

We still received patches of rain for the next 2 days but they were short-lived and the sun brought with it some nice rainbows.

When the wind turned back to the SE we were able to leave the protection of Nara Inlet and sail across the Whitsunday Passage and into the seaside resort town of Airlie Beach.

Once again (like Port Douglas and Cairns) the area around the sailing club and marina precinct is filled with 100’s of new moorings that completely fill a 500m wide band spanning right around the foreshore making it virtually impossible to anchor anywhere inside that zone.
Why you would pay $10 a day for a mooring when its only 4m/13ft deep with perfect holding for an anchor is beyond us – but anyway…..

We also noticed the new Port of Airlie marina was now finished and a new section at the older Able Point Marina was also completed.

The new section at Able Point in the bottom of the photo.
Note the amount of yachts on moorings at the top of the photo…..

The new Port of Airlie on the left

The upside was the floating pontoon at the sailing club that was always packed full of vessels’ tenders is now regulated (meaning people can’t just leave them there for days on end…) and a nominal fee now must be paid to the club and a tag affixed to your tender.
We thought it was a fantastic idea and now there are less tenders and so much more room.

The Airlie Beach foreshore and town has changed a lot and looks fantastic with improved traffic management and a clean & revamped main street.

There is even a new Woolworths in the town centre making reprovisioning so much easier than catching the bus out to Cannonvale.

We only needed 36 hours in Airlie. It gave us enough time to do a shop, have a look around and pick up a bunch of parcels from the post office.
We departed Airlie at 4pm and the sail back out to the islands was awesome with flat seas in the Whitsunday passage and 15 knots of wind that we had to point hard into.
Lorelei was healing over with her gunnel nearly in the water and were flying along at over 8 knots boat speed.
Lorelei was moored up to the last mooring available at Stonehaven and with about 5 minutes to spare before sunset.

The sunset from the Stonehaven anchorage looked great.

With light and variable winds (and a heatwave) forecast for the next 3 days, we left Lorelei at Stonehaven and decided to use the tinny to explore a series of smaller islands and normally exposed beaches around the area.

We ventured out to Langford Island which is a long thin sand cay with a tall and leafy island at one end.
It was a nice walk along the cay but the sand was very hot.

Foraging along the sand cay were many birds with the Sooty Oyster Catchers the most prevalent.

After the walk we snorkelled along the cay and found the coral in surprisingly good condition. In the deeper water we saw a lot of fish and 3 species of shark including a very big Shovel Nose Shark.
The only downside was the underwater viz which is rarely any good in that area.

We returned home after lunch to find Lorelei still floating around in glassy conditions.

The next day we went to a beach around the corner called Steens Beach.

On the way we stopped to look at a pair of eagles that had made their home on top of a channel marker.

Steens Beach had many recent turtle tracks from the large females that come up to lay eggs at the top of the beach.

The beach had many Casuarina Trees along the edge and behind them we found lots of great ferns and a table and chairs that looked perfect for a quiet picnic one day.

By day 3 the conditions were still perfect so we moved Lorelei from Stonehaven around to Butterfly bay on the north side of Hook Island.

From there we were able to take the tinny and explore many of the bays in the area. We started with the furthest one away on the north side which is Pinnacle Bay.

We had a snorkel along a rock formation called the wood stack.
The soft and hard corals are some of the best in the Whitsunday area.

Just as we were under the wood stack overhang, one of the Ocean Rafting tourist boats came in and we had a chat with the guests and staff.
Some of the guests thought we were a little crazy being out so far out from the safety of the beach.

We took the tinny around to Manta Ray Bay which is one of the premier spots to snorkel due to the huge amount of fish life that is regularly hand feed by the charter operators.

We did our own little feeding session and Paul got in with the camera to photograph it.
Lisa fed the fish firstly from the Tinny and then from in the water.

Towards the end two Maori Wrasse came in and Lisa was also able to hand feed both of them.

With the return of the northerly winds (and a little rain) we sailed south to Nara Inlet and met up with friends Les and Kathy off the yacht Sea Temple.
They are also good friends with Rolfe and Kathy who are the original owners and builders of Lorelei.

Each morning (and even some afternoons) we would link up and go for a paddle with them to a different location around the area.

The paddle usually involved a stop for a swim (or two) at a remote beach.

When the heatwave passed, the 4 of us took our tinny over to Whitsunday Island to do a walk to the Whitsunday Cairn.
It is a walking trail that is rarely used due to the track starting at a remote beach that is a fare distance from any safe yacht anchorage and the rent-a-yacht tenders tend not to travel that far.

Fortunately it was overcast which kept the temps down but it was very humid.

The track meandered up through dense rainforest and ferns at first but turned into black-boy and grass forests about half way up.

As we reached the ridge we could climb up onto rock and look out over Border Island.

Just as we arrived at the summit we could see a storm approaching which looked great as it was below us. We scrambled to take photos before it started raining but fortunately it went around us and we could leave all the camera gear out as it passed by.

At the summit the view was amazing as we could look down both sides of the island.

There were lots of black boys and grass trees on the summit too.

Paul took his tripod which enabled us to get a group shot at the top.

So that’s it for another adventurous episode of our blog.
It hasn’t all gone as planned this month as we have had to let the weather dictate where and when we could go (more than normal).
We missed some things we really wanted to do but did different things instead.
If you are going to cruise in the tropics during the monsoon season then you have to be prepared to adapt.
And that’s what we did….

Pauls parents George and Chez arrive on Australia Day (January 26th) for a month long stay in the Whitsunday/Great Barrier Reef area so the next Episode will be all about our time on board Lorelei with them.
It’s sure to be jammed packed with many activities.

Look out for it at the end of February.

Paul Hogger
Lisa Hogger
Yacht Lorelei

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